/ 26 December 2007

It’s a small world — for the rich and famous

Care to rub shoulders, virtually speaking, with the likes of supermodel Naomi Campbell or fashion icon Jean-Charles de Castelbajac? If the answer is yes, then the solution is aSmallWorld.net, an exclusive social networking website for the wealthy and glamorous — that is, for those wealthy, glamorous and lucky enough to be admitted.

”We have imposed certain criteria in order to keep the network exclusive. To join, you need to be invited by a trusted member,” the site’s home page announces. ”If you have not received an invitation, you can ask your friends to invite you. If you have no friends who are members yet, please be patient.”

For some aSmallWorld wannabes, the wait may be long. Created in 2004, the New York-based, English-speaking website today boasts only 265 000 members — compared with the two million new users its less exclusive counterpart, Facebook, claims sign up each week.

The site is the brainchild of Swedish banker Erik Wachtmeister, who lived the small-world creed in his earlier career — perpetually bumping into acquaintances during commutes between Europe and the United States.

Wachtmeister realised a community of people existed that shared the same tastes, needs, desires. So why not create an exchange forum, allowing this swank and peripatetic world to exchange tips on good hotels and restaurants as well as on private soirees in various capitals?

Besides stars like Campbell — who apparently rarely logs on to the site — aSmallWorld’s membership counts trust-fund kids, up-and-coming international executives and communications specialists eager to expand their Rolodex.

Those who make aSmallWorld’s cut must adhere to strict criteria.

Exchanges are conducted exclusively in English. Perfect spelling is a must. Vulgarity, intolerance, racial or pornographic references are all taboo.

The 10 aSmallWorld webmasters are charged with responding rapidly to the faintest trace of abuse and their efforts appear to be paying off; the virulence often present on the internet is absent on the site’s forums.

Discussions might instead centre on practical matters — such as where to buy ”an elegant and discreet” diamond.

But aSmallWorld may not always be a happy one. One Scandinavian member was poised to move in with a man she had met on the site six months previously, before discovering he had asked another virtual girlfriend to marry him.

Today, the site is hoping its membership A-list will attract publicity from prestigious brands. And it needs more participation from more of its members who, caught between two planes and three cocktail parties, tend to log on sporadically.

Nor is aSmallWorld the only one: aSmallWorld groups also exist on Facebook, suggesting exclusiveness is a matter of interpretation. — Sapa-AFP