My friend Richard Soderberg has contacted me to provide more information about what Orkut actually is and who is behind it. According to Richard…
Orkut is the first name of a programmer at Google. Orkut, as part of the standard employee contract, must dedicate 20% of his at-work time to personal projects. Three days ago, he put one of his personal projects, Orkut, up on the web. It is affiliated with Google because he’s an employee of Google.
Now, I can’t say whether Google secretly pressured Orkut into doing this, but as I understand it, Orkut developed this tool of his own accord. That said, I can see millions of wonderful integrations between it and Google, and one specific integration that no one has yet thought of.
If this were a stealth venture, then why would Google be linked from the front page? Why would the site not be protected with a simple, plaintext password to even allow logging in?
Note however that this article seems to suggest that Orkut is more affiliated with Google, and perhaps more tactical to their evolving portal strategy, than Google is saying, but who knows? Time will tell.