Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's a Small World, if you're rich enough


Social networks like Facebook and MySpace can be addictively entertaining places to find old friends, and stalk old enemies. One of the downsides, though, is the hazard of receiving a ‘friend request’ from someone you’ve never met or being on the receiving end of a shameless sales pitch from a distant acquaintance.

Imagine how magnified those irritations might be for social networkers who are wealthy or well known. For the same reason that successful people tend to frequent the same clubs in the real world, they are turning increasingly to niche networks with exacting membership requirements that filter out the kind of person who has failed to make the Sunday Times Rich List.

The largest and best-known of these communities is A Small World. It was founded in 2004, but with in the region of of 300,000 members it’s still comparatively small: One FaceBook group alone, "Enough with the Poking, Lets Just Have Sex", passed that figure this autumn. Size isn’t the issue though. For founder Erik Wachtmeister it’s all about the quality of experience:

This community is characterized by inter-connected, well travelled, interesting, educated, and accomplished people who tend to seek each other out for company and as a resource for trusted information… It is in essence a Social Google, a high-end Zagat/Craigs List/, and a real time Wikipedia rolled into one”

Because the community is invitation-only, it’s impossible for an outsider to take a look and see exactly what’s on offer. The seemingly limited growth potential didn’t put off savvy film producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein who have invested in the company. For the ultra-luxury brands that can afford to advertise on A Small World, it’s a rare opportunity to access a high concentration of web users with astronomically high disposable income.

Membership is private, so the precise value of the Small World demographic is hard to assess. Like the VIP area of a hipper-than average nightclub there’s thought to be a mixture of A-list names, old money and rather decorative fashion models behind the velvet rope.

Certainly if you’re looking to sell your old Bugatti Veyron, or are looking for a private ski lodge in high season, you’re better off there than on MySpace. Strict rules are enforced though to ensure that the elite are not pestered with unrequited sales pitches.

It’s certainly an interesting concept. If you’re of a certain social class and find you have a couple of hours free to fool around on the internet, you really should ask your valet to log on to A Small World and see what’s there.