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The site currently boasts 110 million registered users and is the top social network in many Eastern European countries.In 2006, it launched as an almost line-by-line Facebook clone, and the first thing Westerners will notice when logging on is that its design is a shameless rip-off of Facebook circa 2010.*** Stephen Ewald took to VKontakte after a period of romantic disappointment, starting when his wife of 10 years divorced him in 2008.

VKontakte translates roughly to "In Touch," but I was not there to make lasting friendships.

I wanted to find and speak to some of the young women who have drawn foreign bachelors with the hopes of finding Eastern European wives to the site.

"We all have a natural desire to want to get as a close as possible to the real thing, to meeting some pretty girl on the corner" said William Lee, the proprietor of the website Russian Women and a professional coach for men looking for Eastern European wives.

"Or in this case, randomly meeting some pretty girl online."For their purposes, VKontakte is the perfect alternative.

Thanks to Google Translate, they no longer need the expensive translation services provided by many agencies.

And not only are they cheaper, the men believe cruising social networks where "normal" foreign women hang out is a more authentic experience than a matchmaking agency's website.

Agency rosters are stuffed with savvy "pro-daters" who are just out for gifts and cash handouts, they blogger who says his Ukrainian ex-girlfriend was hired to correspond with lovelorn Westerners on Anastasia International, one of the more popular agencies.

With that in mind, men like Stephen Ewald are bypassing dating agencies and going straight to the source: The social networks that are increasingly popular in Eastern Europe.

"What happened is the advent of all these online travel sites put a lot of pressure on these traditional models, with people going online and booking their own flights," he said.

"The internet cuts out the middleman and the agency is the classic middleman."A more ominous explanation for the shift would be the passage in 2005 of the International Marriage Brokerage Act.

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