By Seth Weintraub
August 25, 2010

At the same time, Facebook passes Orkut in India.

As comScore reports that Facebook has inched past Google’s Orkut in India, Google is adding some trivial features to its Orkut social networking service.

Orkut is still growing steadily (Myspace is declining) in India, but Facebook is blowing up at 10 times the rate as Orkut.  That has to have some at Google worried.

Use of social networks in India grew 43 percent from July 2009 to July 2010, the numbers show. More than 33 million people in India (15 and older) are now using social-networking sites. That’s 84 percent of all Internet users in that country. Traffic firm ComScore found that with 20.9 million users in India, Facebook now has a slight edge over Orkut, which has 19.9 million users. Facebook grew 179 percent in India in the past year; Orkut grew 16 percent.

So what’s Google’s response to this?  In a post on its Orkut blog (yes it exists), Google posts a video (below) of a woman going from business to party faster than Billy Rae Cyrus’s mullet.  Could this be a secret weapon?

This shows the three groups of people in most people’s lives.  Family, Work friends and Friends.  A big issue with Facebook is that these three groups are all smashed together.  Orkut is now allowing you to separate these groups so that posting office party pictures doesn’t get seen by your friends and family.  Conversely, baby pictures of your nephew won’t get seen by your friends and office workers.  And those party pictures aren’t going to be passed around at work.

Unless you group people in more than one network.

Will this be enough to stem the flow of people to Facebook?  Probably not.

More importantly, Will GoogleMe, its internal answer to FaceBook, build off of Orkut or cast those users loose.  Orkut is already attached to a users Google/Gmail account so it would be strange to have two social networks tied together.  Perhaps it will be an ‘upgrade’.

Therefore, updates to Orkut could provide some insight into what’s coming for GoogleMe.  Maybe.

Orkut’s update today isn’t terribly exciting but it could be one advantage of GoogleMe over Facebook. Google lists the complete range of new features below.

Scraps to multiple people Now you can send scraps to your friends straight from your homepage in orkut. And more: you can send the same scrap to many people at the same time or even to all your friends. That’s right: no more copy and paste!

Privacy in groups
You can choose the privacy level you want for your messages. For instance, you can send a private scrap to a group of four people and only those four people can see it and reply to it. If they reply, you guys will have a private, group conversation visible only to you and those four friends. If you prefer going public, just send a scrap visible to all your friends or even send a public scrap so everyone in orkut can see it. It’s your choice.

Groups of friends
To make it easier for you to interact with your groups of friends, now you can open them from your homepage. Your groups will always be a click away from you, on the top of the page. When you click a group (for example, “college friends”), you’ll see updates, photos, videos and activities only from people who are part of that group. If you want to write them something, the scrap editor will automatically select everyone in the group and the privacy will be set to “Private” so you can share information that is relevant to that group only. And, of course, you can change that privacy setting before sending the message.

We know that sometimes we invite someone from work to a family party or we bring a gym friend to the office happy hour. That means: sometimes our groups of friends mix together. Thinking of this, you can easily add or remove as many people as you want from the recipients of a scrap.

Oh, and yes, remember that the groups are yours only. Nobody else will know the names of your groups of friends. When you send something to the entire group, people will know who else can see the message, but they will not know the name you chose for the group within your orkut. Also, you can change and edit your groups whenever you want, the way you want it!

Groups formed automagically!
You can create your groups of friends manually. However, as you know, here at Google we love simplifying tough problems to make people’s lives better. Thinking of this we came up with the “automagic groups”: Based on your interactions, orkut automatically suggests some groups of friends for you, and these suggested groups will be ready for you to use. Also, you can add your personal touch to your groups at anytime and make them any way you want.

Because new friendships usually come along with time, orkut will also suggest new members for your groups over the time, so they are always up-to-date with minimum work from you.

More news and what’s to come

Birthdays: we’re also improving the way birthdays appear in your page, and you can send your friends birthday wishes without leaving your homepage. You’ll also be able to interact with other people who are also sending them happy birthdays and celebrate your friend’s birthday with them. And remember: if the idea is to organize a surprise party, don’t forget to send a private scrap to your friends ;-)

Friend Suggestions: we will always be improving the friend suggestions, and these suggestions will be part of your updates, moving down in your page along the day, just like any other update. When we’ve a brand new, really good suggestion, we will bring it to the top again.

Fortune of The Day and Recent Visitors will also appear every day as activities, scrolling down as new updates from your friends come in.

Games and Applications: millions of people are playing with and using applications in orkut every day. In the period of two months, more than 6 million people created cafes in CafeMania and 36 million people manage their Farms, all on orkut’s game applications. To make accessing games and applications easier, now you can find them in your homepage, right below your communities. Not to mention, applications also have new pages now.

Communities: Orkut communities are a great way for people to expand their groups of friends and know other people who share the same interests, support the same team or want to know more about a place or event. A few days ago we started testing a new platform to support orkut communities, and soon we will release it to everyone.

If these changes are not visible for you yet, don’t worry, over the next few days everyone will enjoy these new features.

Is there more to come? Absolutely! So buckle up and have fun :-)

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