Goodbye Yahoo ! Chat. Goodbye Orkut.

27 Comments

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Once upon a time, there was no high-speed Internet, the mention of the word apple still conjured up images of a fruit, the forward-thinking Xerox-“STD” stores charged one rate for domestic email and another for international email, Pagerank was still in “What the eff is that?” phase, intellectuals did not have the luxury of appearing erudite by reading Wikipedia just-in-time-for-an-argument, and research was still done in libraries—you know the ones where they keep hard-copy ebooks.

And Yahoo! was Salman Khan, the 100-crore giant in the room. It was your browser home-page, the post-box where you got your email (there were so few that you even read the spam) and the search box where you typed in “Cindy Crawford sexy pictures”. Sure, some people used Hotmail too, perhaps under the mistaken impression that the mail you would get there would be of the hot type, but still Yahoo ! was the most popular online destination. It was whispered that the people behind Yahoo! were Shammi Kapoor fans, but since there was no Wikipedia then, we could never confirm if this was true. But we assumed it was.

It was around this time that many started discovering this other Yahoo! feature.

Yahoo Chat. Or simply the ! in Yahoo !

I mean, Desibaba was all well and good, but there is only so much that morphed pictures of Karishma Kapoor and stories of the “Bhabhi ki kharabi” series can do for a hot-blooded individual. One then desired the company of a real person of the opposite gender, and so the thirsty generation waited, till the night fell and parents fell asleep, to fire up their dial-up modems, the whrrrrr hunting tone making them throb with the anticipation of the hunt, as they quietly dove into the world of  Yahoo! Chat rooms.

20’s Love. 30s Love. Adult-themed chatrooms that only one’s friends visited.

Clicking on ids, initiating contact(virtual), waiting for replies, and then if Houston made contact, to proceed with the opening move that came to be known as a/s/l (Age/sex/location).

Frequent denizens of Yahoo Chat, and I can only speak from the male perspective, knew the rules. Rule number 2 was that angelgirl123 and bustylusty4u and similarly provocative ids were all bots, who wanted you to click on links.   Rule number 3 was that one could use Salman Khan’s picture as your own only when chatting in UK and US rooms.  And rule number 1 was that any female-sounding id who initiated chat contact with a male id was either as a bot or a jealous girl-friend under another name trying to validate her man’s honesty or, this was most common, a man. For some reason I could rarely fathom, a large number of men would chat as women in Yahoo ! Perhaps they wanted to experience the sensation of being wanted, a sensation many used to a life of lonely desperation never quite experienced. Perhaps they suffered from the prison syndrome, where you no longer care if it is a man or a woman. Whatever may have been the real reason, the things to remember was that if something was too good to be true, it definitely was. The ultimate confirmation of the gender of the finger at the other end of the chat-line would obviously be a voice chat (and one cultivated an ear to distinguish genuine women from desperate men doing their best Lata Mangeskar impression) and the holy grail, video chat. But with the speed of dial-ups being as they were and that blood was cheaper than megabytes of bandwidth and most importantly women never did cam-chat unless she was speaking to a man with whom she already had two children, the chance of visual affirmation was about as much as that of Venkatapathy Raju winning a Mr. Universe bodybuilding competition.

And hence they all groped along in the darkness. Literally and cyberly.

Yahoo! Chat was not just about making connections in the great beyond. It fuelled the economy, building, together with gaming and porn, the cybercafe business in India. College kids and yes even school kids would come to cybercafes, in groups, and huddle over one Pentium machine, giggling and nudging each other, bags placed strategically on laps. As chat rooms became voice-enabled, communities started to build around Chat rooms, with people fighting for the mic, some singing,  some emitting sounds of doubtful provenance, and some shouting random abuse in colorful language for no good reason.

It was organic, it was funny, it was fun, and yes, once in a while, people did find that perfect match.

But then Yahoo!, the company itself began to die under the onslaught of Google. Before we knew it, Yahoo! Chat had become like Sealdah station , not maintained, left to rot and with suspicious people hanging about, looking here and there.

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The people had to be somewhere of course. So they began flocking to the next big thing, social networking. The age of anonymity and multiple identities had come to an end, to be replaced by a more conventional interaction ethic that more resembled the real world’s.

Orkut, with its profile pictures and real names, was considered more trustworthy than the wild wild west of Yahoo!, despite the profusion of profiles with Ayesha Takia pictures. Hence it flourished.

A new vocabulary came into being. Friending. Unfriending. Blocking. Scrapping. Testimonials, the politics of which would have overwhelmed even Machiavelli.

With picture albums that were open for public viewing initially, one could spend rainy afternoons surfing through real pictures of women, and then, send them scraps asking for “fransip” with the goal being to evolve the “fransip” into “labhsip”. Sure the English was bad, and ppl missed vowels and used caps and small letters indiscriminately, and neologisms like “hottings” and “nottings” (the latter being considered a portmanteau of “naughty things”) were indiscriminately coined, but one could not mistake the genuine bonhomie and desire to connect across boundaries of space and time, and no where was this better expressed than in the albums of pretty women who would wake up in the morning to find scraps left by total strangers of the type “Nice lag. Will u mekk fransip wid me?”

But then somewhere down the line, Facebook opened itself to the world, with its better user interface and its locked down albums.  People started fleeing Orkut faster than industries from Bengal, and Orkut, once dutifully maintained and updated, became like a ghost post-apocalyptic cityscape, there and yet not there,

Not that Orkut could not have been saved. Not that Yahoo! Chat could not have been saved. It was that its owners never figured out how to commercialize them.

The golden age of the Net was now officially over. Things no longer existed for the sheer pleasure of being there. Power had passed from the hands of engineers and scientists and intellectual adventurers to the MBA types. Yahoo! Chat was too anonymous to monetize through targeted advertisements. Orkut was better in that respect but it had not been designed from the beginning keeping in mind a commercial strategy, and the cost of re-architecting it was considered too prohibitive.

So Google built the Orkut replacement Google+, the Rohit Sharma of social networks,  supposedly very awesome but no one knows what its good for.  Facebook though won as the social network war, evil and omnipresent, monitoring and mining every thing you do. What used to be innocent questions like “What are you wearing?” during Yahoo! Chat days are now commerce-driven information processing queries, with Facebook knowing not only what you are wearing now but also what you will wear tomorrow, and here is an advertisement for you from one of our partners to stock up your wardrobe, and even after you leave Facebook, they pursue you in your other tabs, like a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer pimp.

So today we pine. Today we weep. For Yahoo! Chat and Orkut no doubt,  but more than them, for those kinder, simpler times, when corporations did not know what we got off to, when people were users, and not assets that drive stock valuations.

And so it will come to pass. The servers will be redeployed. The landing page will become a static headstone. The lights will be turned off for good.

Yet the two shall remain, in our memories, in  hours of lost productivity, in seconds of strategic screen-minimizations,in  floating scraps of conversations and in shards of indescribable delight.

Goodbye old friends. Sail gently into the night.

 

 

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27 thoughts on “Goodbye Yahoo ! Chat. Goodbye Orkut.

  1. Yes…and this post let us get lost in the fond memory lanes….like chitrahaar, Jhonny Sokko and a lot more….a lump in the throat…heavy heart…..

  2. Its an art to make masses nostalgic and “Demented Mind”, you did a wonderful job there.
    I don’t belong to the state of the ‘city of joy’ but i feel you cracked quite a few ones on it !!
    Could have done with being less verbose, but love the feeling forced down by those nearly forgotten words you used. Fucking Good effort !!

  3. this is splendid. made me laugh and feel nostalgic at the same time. and as always, some killer punches . the g+ rohit sharma was just too good.

  4. “or, this was most common, a man”

    hehe i am more than guilty on this count.

    I have tricked even good friends into “lasbhships” only to narrate it all behind their backs.

    three pranks involving ychat is always fresh with me

    1. tricking a good friend
    2.tricking a chinese man posing as a singaporean girl and driving him crazy
    3.posing as a british india hater and entering into a prolonged abuse session with a total stranger, which then carried over into real phone conversation and even more graphic abuses (by then my fake britishness was exposed)

    and then thr was that sweet girl Nidhi whom I met and became very attached to … innocent days

    have no nostalgia associated with Orkut BTW… and i totally ignore facebook

  5. a close friend trolled yahoo chat for a mate and ultimately did get his wife from one of the chat rooms .. a miracle if ever ..

  6. Enjoyed the post thoroughly. I still remember punching dialup user name and password on the telnet like black screen and waiting to to hit F7 at some sacred moment expecting a successful connection. Then I was good in predicting success of connection attempt based on the noise of dialup tone and sequence of indicator blinking of US Robotics 56K modem. :)

  7. ” … the forward-thinking Xerox-”STD” stores charged one rate for domestic email and another for international email … ”

    While I can very well remember all the other details, this was news to me. Wow! How did they determine if the electrons making up that email crossed the ocean? Was it dependent on the gullibility of the customer?

    BTW, rediff chat was a good competitor to yahoo! chat in those days, at least in India.

    A man posing as a woman was so common in those days that it was almost a given that any female you find online was almost certain to be a male in disguise. I myself am guilty on that count a few times … :-)

  8. … once you had randomly befriended few girls(!!) from Indonasia/Malaysia(they were the girls-within-reach on Yahoo! chat … if you were posing as Steve Michals from Cali4nia, with profile pics of David Beckham) … you always wanted to step-up the game by adding some white girls in your “friends list” :P

  9. I actually chatted with lot of women, relatives and friends on yahoo/rediff. I was fortunate/unfortunate to talk to some women on the phone and meet a few in person. One girl who I was chatting/talking to duped me into believing she was Kareena look-alike untill I met her and ‘Usain’ bolted.

  10. As usual, great post. Made me really nostalgic. Shifted me back by a decade. In those days I used to chat a lot at Calcutta Global Chat Room Number One in Yahoo Messenger. Also I used to chat a lot at a pre-historic and monstrous chat-engine strangely named MIRC32. Then came Orkut and conquered our hearts. I am writing my own blog-post on those golden days of Yahoo Messenger and Orkut, which I will upload within 30th September…

  11. A nice trip down memory lane ! I remember the time when i was ASL 16fKol, and had come up with a chat name ‘cybergirl’ because i felt it sounded really fashionable and is surely going to attract lot of male attention:)..and to my utter shock kept receiving obscene requests from men (like..hey cyber girl..wanna cyber ?) only to realize much later that ‘having cyber’ meant having cyber sex !! ;)

  12. This was brilliant. Lines as these, “the chance of visual affirmation was about as much as that of Venkatapathy Raju winning a Mr. Universe bodybuilding competition”, “People started fleeing Orkut faster than industries from Bengal” cracked me up bad!
    Made me recall the time when I, with a school friend (“school” added in here just to make sure I can pass off what is to follow as an instance of juvenile curiosity/stupidity), signed in on Yahoo messenger as a “Janet Haque” while sitting in one of those 20bucks/hour internet cafes and there were random pings from suspiciously named people like DaD0oD, HeartBreakKid, L@verB0y and what not! These guys asked strange questions like “Hey hon, what is your religion?” (not that the name was helping them anyways). Those were my very initial days on the internet and I had no clue in hell as to what “asl” or “lol” or “rofl” meant. This is how our conversation with one of these guys went:
    Random guy: Hey babe, ASL?
    Janet Haque: I want to have hot and steamy sex with you.
    Random guy: LOL. I asked for your ASL sweetie.
    Janet Haque: ….
    Random guy: ?
    Janet Haque: Are you up for some hot and sizzling chat?
    Random guy: Hey babes, I just asked for your ASL. Are you dumb?
    (heated discussion over our next move. We give up…)
    Janet Haque: Teri maa ki &^$%#^, bhen**$&^$, bhaag saale tharki. (some more expletives in Assamese assuming the guy won’t understand).
    Random guy: **string of Assamese expletives we had never heard of**
    (me and friend log out laughing).

  13. Good post. I was not much of a yahoo chat user although I remember a few of my friends getting addicted to it. And Orkut was good too until the Facebook tsunami came and washed it away.

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