The Latvian friends networking website www.draugiem.lv has started an Italian franchise, www.vostriamici.it. The log-in page looks identical to the Latvian site, except I haven't gotten an invito, so I don't know what the inside looks like. Currently, it appears to be populated by a small number of members, basically a seeding crew who will bring in several amici each, who in turn will bring in their contacts and so forth, getting the ball rolling.
Lauris Liberts, the godfather of draugiem, has deliberately kept the launch low-key to make sure that it actually works ("works" means getting past, say, 1000 members). Another factor is that Catholic Italy has been host to the mourning and funeral ceremonies for Pope John Paul II. Once this is over, the potential target audience of amici will be getting back to everyday life and less solemn activities.
An official announcement of vostriamici probably won't be made until toward the end of the month, except that the gatto is out of the sachetto (well, the cat is out of the bag) thanks to this blog and a piece that may appear in the Latvian-language Dienas bizness next week :).
One can assume that the Italian site will be the same insalata mista of features, forums, personal profile pages, uploadable photos, etc., as the Latvian original, now edging toward 260 000 members, or more than 10 % of the population.
What is interesting about this is the hosting solution – initially amici will be hosted on Lattelekom's servers. In the mid-term, the whole site may move to an Italian host, but be administered by Lattelekom remotely. I also wonder how they will solve the problem of SMS micropayments for added services
There has been some buzz on the Latvian blogosphere (yes, there is such a thing) that the relationship between draugiem and Lattelekom may be more than arm's length. This blogger has heard from the mouths of several horses :) that this isn't so and won't be so. In other words, Lattelekom has not bought nor is is about to buy draugiem.
Having said that, there is a lingering suspicion that Lattelekom realizes it is on to something potentially big and something that may not last forever. Presently, it is like the landlord of a very crowded and popular bar. All the bar does is pay the rent, but the landlord would certainly like more of the action.
The cooperation between Lattelekom and draugiem could be like what I suggested for the third mobile operator -- sell a product with a Lattelekom platform and the draugiem brand. Right now, Lattelekom offers a kind of broadband lite, Pilsetas internets (City Internet) that has a download speed of 128 kbps (the other consumer service, HomeDSL, doubled its speed for the same money to 512 kbps).
How to synergize with draugiem? Rebrand Pilsetas internets to Draugu internets, jump the speed to 256 kbps and offer it through draugiem.lv for the same price, maybe even a discount on the DSL modem or the like. From what I have heard, TeliaMultiCom, a direct competitor of Lattelekom in significant parts of Riga (LVL 19.95 for 1 Mb is one of the best deals around if one is near their cable network) was swamped with hits on its server after it put a banner on draugiem.lv. There is a lesson and an opportunity in this.
Sorry, no music behind this one :)