Sunday, December 04, 2005

So, was the Orkut code really stolen?

About a year and a half ago, Wired reported that Google was being sued by a small company called Affinity Engines because of the code used for Orkut.

The suit alleged that Orkut Buyukkokten -- the engineer who wrote Google's Orkut social networking site and named it after himself -- reused Affinity Engines code when developing the Orkut site. Orkut Buyukkokten used to work at Affinity Engines.

What ever happened with this? Did Orkut steal the source code? I've heard rumors that Google is utterly in the wrong here, but the court case still is slowly grinding its way through. If there is evil to be found here, it seems to be buried under enough legal slime that it may be years before it is fully exposed.

But, looking at how Google's social networking site has languished, I can't help but think that this controversy is at least somewhat responsible. If Google was concerned about liability, they'd have a big incentive to discontinue development of Orkut.

What do you think? Was the code stolen? If so, is it a violation of Google's "do no evil" mantra? If not, why does Orkut seem to have been abandoned by Google?

Update: A few months later, the court case appears to have ended. When I inquired about it, I got the following statement from Michael Kwun at Google: "The parties have resolved their differences in this matter and have agreed not to share the terms of the agreement. We are very pleased with the outcome."


Anonymous said...

If Google stole the code, however stealing is defined by law when it comes to computer code, I'd say it's definitively a violation of their "do no evil" mantra.

As for Orkut being abandoned, can't that have something to do with the inherent nature of social networks? I remember reading that for some reason, Orkut became a hit in portuguese speaking countries (i.e. Portugal and Brazil). This alienated a lot of people from other countries.

The Wikipedia article on Orkut calls this phenomenon the "brazilian invasion" and the "brazilian takeover", and claims that only 5.38% of users are from the US, while over 75% come from Brazil. Maybe that has something to do with it?

Anonymous said...

I stopped using Orkut not because it was full of Brazilians (which it is), but because it became sooooooooo slow and prone to page errors.

I was shocked when I tried it again recently and didn't get any errors and it seemed really speedy. Maybe Orkut got an upgrade recently?

- Ned

Anonymous said...

All of the evidence I've looked at makes it more than a bit suspicious. Software engineers are more likely to be accurate in evaluating this sort of behavior than non-engineers, unfortunately - we'll know how unlikely a particular code snippet or bug is - so I don't have a lot of faith in the court system. But does anybody really believe that Google would have just randomly chosen to build an entirely new system in .NET?

Anonymous said...

From what I know of Google, the odds that they would use stolen code are slim to none. The company is dominated by a hatred of anything "Not Invented Here". Only recently have they started outsourcing some tasks that are not aligned with their core mission. Also the google code base is shared and religously monitored internally. The odds of someone sneaking a large complex engine into the code base with out raising eyebrows is slightly lower than a snowball's chance in hell. JMHO ;-)

Alex Bosworth said...

Orkut is the 72nd most popular Alexa site:

seems to be doing ok, I bet it's very 'sticky' as well, which is rare for a Google property.

I think the real problem is that they originally built it on .NET which has turned out to be a huge mistake