Upcoming Orkut changes: more than just cosmetic?
Much has been written about how the upcoming changes to Orkut looks to be largely cosmetic (rounded corners and other essential web 2.0 identifiers), but there seems to be one significant silent change that Google recently released to the product that has not been picked up by anyone.
Orkut used to work using dual sessions (one from the Google Accounts server and the other from the Orkut server itself) earlier, meaning that you’d have to authenticate once more while going to Orkut, if you were logging in for the first time, even after you were logged into your Google account. On the other hand, if you were logged into Orkut first using your Google Account credentials, you were automatically logged into rest of the Google properties like email and reader.
In the past couple of days this has changed from Google’s end. They have switched to a new system whereby Orkut authentication is also now handled end-to-end by the Google servers (end of the GLogin.aspx days?), thus ensuring what could be called expected behaviour from a single-sign-on system. Another significant change is that this also means you can’t now join Orkut without a Google Account.
This change could possibly be a stand alone one or it could be an indicator of much greater changes under the hood. Orkut has already been using Google’s infrastructure like Big Table, so integration should not be a major problem with the rest of the Google system. That said, Google’s challenges with Orkut lies elsewhere. The Orkut application server is very buggy, resulting in unpredictable behaviour like scraps being eaten up as they are posted and per page sessions being invalidated.
An even greater challenge is to clean up the system of spam. 99% of the inbox messages are unadulterated spam messages (with huge volumes if you are part of some of the larger communities) and same is the case with the community postings. Another issue with the infrastructure and I am making a wild guess here: Orkut is the only product in the Google system that is built using ASP.net and the bindings/drivers it must be using to interact with Big Table and other Google bells and whistles would probably not of the same quality or maintenance level as a Python binding/driver would be. Which leads to the interesting question, should Orkut be rewritten in something else for it be at par with other social networking sites?
P.S: I am aware of the fact that the .aspx extensions could easily be faked to maintain integrity of URL references making my last point totally invalid, but at this point in time I am not quite sure of that and will gladly strike it off if someone would confirm this.