Mr.Büyükkökten,how is the expansion of your new social network, Hello,going so far? What countries have given the best feedback?
We have a growing presence in several countries, though primarily Brazil, India and the United States. We just closed our India Beta, which had over 35,000 participants, and we signed up over 100,000 new Indian users in just two weeks following the launch. We have received amazing feedback from all our members, especially our Indian ones, who are very vocal about suggestions, and diligent about reporting bugs or other issues.
Why did you pick India as your primary market?
Indians provided such an amazing, loving network of communities on my previous network, Orkut.com. The people of India are very passionate and down-to-earth; qualities that visibly transcend to their interactions online. They are also early adopters of new technologies and services. And because we see the Hello social network as the spiritual successor of Orkut.com, we felt it was natural to focus on India, and provide a platform that brings people together around shared passions and interests. This is an exciting continuation of our journey into a new era.
You have mentioned you were bullied as a kid, and that fact formed your way of thinking and looking at human relations – you say this generation needs kindness and compassion more than ever. How can Hello help regarding this matter?
Ingenuity and good design in services can bring out the best in people. We conceived the entire Hello experience around enhancing user happiness and bringing people together around communities. Hello is built on loves, not likes. Hatred and harassment have no place on a service that's built on values such as love, empathy, kindness, connectedness, and happiness. So by focusing on positivity, we hope to spread more compassion.
You believe that technology has the power to bring people together. However, don’t you think that there is an aspect of contradiction there – however good or noble the idea or purpose of the social network is, doesn’t it make people text, exchange ideas, and words over the screen without actually being physically together? Many psychologists believe it is a pathway to isolation. What are your thoughts on this?
In the past decade, social networks have driven us further apart from each other. Meaningful connections happen when we can be intimate with people. In order for intimacy to happen, we need to share something emotionally significant. Risk is at the heart of it. The current generation has stopped taking risks, because there is so much worry about being rejected or disapproved. We struggle to create meaningful connections online, and this behavioral pattern has crept into our real-life interactions. In an ideal social network, some of our online interactions would carry into real life, if users are geographically close together. So by connecting people virtually around shared interests, they’re more likely to find ways to connect in the physical world; and we’ve already seen this on Hello! Several members now have hello-gatherings and monthly meet-ups around the interests that connected them!
What has gone wrong with social media today?
Today, people don’t seem to share who they are, or what is actually going on, and instead distort their exterior image, showing only what one thinks the world wishes to see in us. Social feeds are filled with perfectly choreographed moments and idealistic posts, and create appearances that are often worlds apart from actuality. This disingenuity fosters isolation, depression, and anxiety. We look at our feeds and see that our friends go to fancier restaurants, they travel all the time, they have better looking friends and are having a better time than we are ... There is already tremendous social pressure to fit into society, and social media has managed to amplify this tension. It’s like a photoshopped magazine cover is now the norm for everyday situations in social posts. It needs to stop.
How would you comment about the Facebook scandal and the leaking of users’ private data?
Social media services should be transparent about what they do with users' data and who they share it with. They should ask the users' explicit consent if they are going to harvest their data for any purpose other than improving the experience. A lot of companies, like Facebook, are tricking users by burying their actual intentions in their interminably-long terms of service and privacy policies. So it's not morally right and fair to share, sell, or leak user data because someone unwittingly consented.
You said your company is striving to establish itself as an alternative and more secure social media. How?
Today, social media has been prioritizing advertisers, third parties, brands, revenue, shareholders... not users. Most algorithms that curate our social feeds are optimized to maximize time spent and advertising clicks. With Hello,we always put our members first. Users should be the champions on any social platform because it's about people: that’s why you’re there! Hello is an alternative social space that encourages togetherness; it’s a place that is safe, comfortable, welcoming, expressive, and kind.
Orkut Büyükkökten and the team
What is the main reason users should, maybe, switch from Facebook to Hello?
Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are good for broadcasting life updates to your family, your friends, and your followers. They are also good for messaging.
Hello has a very different purpose and core benefit, because it’s primarily about meeting new people and making new friends. Our vision is to build bridges, not taller towers. Hello is a place where you can make new connections, find love, have meaningful conversations about things you are passionate about. This is not Facebook's purpose. I believe that 99% of humanity needs to connect more, and the most natural way for us to connect in real life is around common interests and the things that interest us most. Hello brings the best in real life and communities to social networking.
Tell us more about the Karma feature of the network?
In our daily lives we gain a reputation in our society and progress in our status. Over time, strangers become acquaintances, friends, or more. So we incorporated the best experiences in life and society into Hello. We have a built-in reputation system that we call Karma. In the app, the karma earned is from the actions of other users. As users spend more time interacting with content and with others, they build a reputation. The reputation is used to enhance the experience of the entire community. For instance, we use reputation to figure out how widely content should be spread.
The impression is that you are a visionary. What do you see as your greatest life success in the future?
My greatest, wildest, and everlasting ambition in life is to bring people together around technology. I have spent almost my entire career designing and building social software. My vision with Hello is to make social networks a happy and fun place again. Social networks are all about humans, and I would like to enhance everyone's life by enabling meaningful social connections.
Photos: Archive of Orkut Büyükkökten