Gmail and Orkut: Hi Tech Status Symbols

July 2, 2004

It was bound to happen sometime. The innocence of the fledgling Internet was shattered only two years or so after its creation as a tool between academics as a medium for communication and sharing of information. As soon as big business figured out that the Net was a fantastic way to sell people things, that put an end to privacy and the joy of an email box with no spam in it. But, as with all living organisms, the Internet is changing once again.

The latest incarnation of the Web, for the young and hip at any rate, is its usefulness as an exclusionary social tool. Witness the growth of the hot new social networks, such as Friendster and Orkut. Orkut is owned by Google, the search engine giant that's about to go public and whose motto is "Don't be evil." Orkut is like thousands of other online communities in that it brings together groups of people with like interests to chat about life, the universe and everything. But there is a difference with Orkut -- not just anyone can join. You have to be invited to join. Instantly, Orkut became a status symbol, with people frantically searching for someone who could recommend them as a member. The old negative sell works once again. A brilliant marketing tactic, I must say.

And now, the guys at Google have generated an interest in Gmail that borders on hysteria. After a barrage of initial negative publicity about Google's proposed new email service (due to privacy concerns over the fact that all emails are retained forever by Google), Gmail is the hottest email address to have. Why, you might ask? Well, you can't just sign up for the free service. It's in beta test mode, so you have to be invited to join. People are frantically searching for invites to open a Gmail account. In fact, they are listed on ebay right now for around $5.00 U.S. Google sends free invites to certain current Gmail members, who can pass them on to friends. Figuring that your chances of getting your first choice email address at gmail.com will be slim to none if you wait until the service launches, people are buying the rights to a free email account, or offering amazing services in trade.

Will Gmail and Orkut last? Will they be status symbols next year? Beats me. But one thing's for sure. The guys at Google are very, very smart. And that bodes well for the future of their company.















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