Website aims to help foreigners in Czech Republic communicate
www.expats.cz is an Internet site which aims to help foreigners in the Czech Republic, expecially those who have recently arrived, to share experiences and information. Martin Howlings is the man behind the website. Earlier today he came into the Radio Prague studio, and spoke to my colleague Ian Willoughby.
What does that forum offer them?
"Basically it's a way to communicate. When you come to the country - certainly from my own experiences - you're left with an information vacuum. You don't know quite where you should go, what you should do. There are a lot of questions that people want to ask about the Czech Republic that you're not going to get unless you ask somebody who's already been here and has the experience."
Do you think that people who have been for a while and have the experience are interested in sharing it with newcomers?
"Some of them are. The website is probably not built for those who have been here on a long, long-term basis. We are trying to capture those who've been here perhaps for a year, or six months, maybe are studying here - for those who are setting up life. The whole thing is built for an introduction to the Czech Republic. It has just as much use for those who've been here for a long time too. You can ask questions of any variety."
It's essentially a message board.
"Essentially. The site will be an awful lot more but at the moment the core use of the site is to ask questions. Let's say somebody was looking to move here; they would ask questions six months ahead of time about property, the social arrangements, what you should do, what you shouldn't do, the language schools. So they can have even a social circle before they even arrived by using these message boards."
A lot of people have lost a lot of money on the Internet - how optimistic are you about the future of your site?
"I'm optimistic that people will always communicate. The way the site's built is that people will talk talk talk. And there are always questions to be asked - every single day there are more questions."
But questions won't pay your rent.
"Questions generate interest, interest generates user hits, user hits generate views to our adverts. Our advertising is our main source of revenue, and other services that will go on."
Some people might say it's a bad thing for foreigners to come here and stick together - even on the Internet - and that expats are already too cliquey.
"(laughs) Expats.cz is not about the cliquiness of the normal Czech expat society. You can dip in, ask a question and dip back out again."
Where do you see the sight in a year or two from now?
"We're already Prague's biggest expatriate community on the Internet. I would very much like us to have every expatriate service, every expatriate want and need to be fulfilled, the one place you would go to find out more information about the Czech Republic and what life is like to live here. And it's forever changing as you know. We hope to be able to keep up with that."