Clone Wars

Have you heard of vKontakte.ru? Me neither. Until I stumbled upon André Paetzel’s recent article in which he describes worldwide social network trends and highlights the regional players in the network landscape of 2010. Besides Hyves.nl – the too cool to give instill hip social network in the Netherlands – he also mentioned vKontake.ru. A social networking website especially focused on Russia.

The economics

The similarities and connections with the big blue network reach more far than what’s obvious from the logo above: André Vatter in 2009 reported that Digital Sky Technologies (DST) invested a 100M Dollar in the Russian social network. Back then the network had about 44 million users and claimed to plan an international roll-out under the domain of vK.com for the end of 2009. Well, they have done it. Visit vK.com and you are presented with the following “mission statement” available in English, Russian, German and a bunch of other languages very reminiscent of Facebook’s language selection:

VK is an all-purpose tool for finding friends, both old and new.
Our goal is to keep old friends, ex-classmates, neighbours and co-workers in touch.
We currently have 88,454,251 members and counting.
On our site, you can:

  • Find people with whom you’ve studied, worked or met on vacation.
  • Learn more about people around you and make new friends.
  • Stay in touch with loved ones.

VK is an all-purpose tool for finding friends, both old and new.Our goal is to keep old friends, ex-classmates, neighbours and co-workers in touch.We currently have 88,454,251 members and counting.On our site, you can: Find people with whom you’ve studied, worked or met on vacation.Learn more about people around you and make new friends.Stay in touch with loved ones.

In fact the network is growing so fast, you can even watch it doing so …
YouTube Preview Image
Once you are logged in your first impression will be: “Wow, they really know how to steal IP.” André Paetzel also mentions the obvious similarities to Facebook in terms of interface and usability.

But dig a little deeper and you can’t help but finding yourself in a perfect mash-up between Facebook and the German VZ networks.
VZ vs. vK

Even searching for other users looks similar to the german social network famous for incorporating code, CSS and ideas from Facebook without prior permission:

So what’s going on here? An international venture capital company is funding a russian social network with money it earns from it’s prior investment in Facebook. Obviously money isn’t the only thing that has been transferred here.

The viral story

Pavel Durov - The russion version of Mark Zuckerberg

Besides the parallels regarding investors and interface, vKtontake.ru also built its own clone of Mark Zuckerberg. They are calling him Pavel Durov and besides finding him on vKontakte.ru (of course with the link vKontakte.ru/id1) you may also search for him on Facebook, sonico.com (a latin-american Facebook clone), MySpace and a whole bunch of other digital spots including Twitter. And in the best of Mark Zuckerberg’s traditions users already stalk Pavel down and publish videos on the “great news” of him changing his profile picture:

YouTube Preview Image

You cannot help but ask yourself (again): what’s going on here? Is this all a perfectly managed viral campaign to promote the russian Facebook clone including the hype surrounding Facebook’s iconic founder? We’ll see.

The hidden agenda

Given the fact that vKontakte.ru and Facebook have common investors, it will be interesting to see what happens if vK.com continues to roll-out internationally. With their 88 million members (and still counting) they already have a strong position within Russia. One possible scenario could lead to an official joint venture between the two blue networks (technology has already been exchanged). It has been clear for some time now that Facebook so far isn’t able to accomodate all the regional needs of social network affine people around the globe and that local or regional social network providers are still able to offer them something more interesting than “like”. But thinking about the strong similarities even down to the low-level celebrity hype surrounding the networks’ founders, I can’t help but think, that their is a perfectly aligned strategy behind all of this.

Socialize this