ASMALLWORLD.com, an invitation-only social networking site that has gained the reputation of "Myspace for millionaires," has reemerged into view since CEO Sabine Heller took measures to make the company more exclusive.
The social networking platform launched in 2004 as a "private online community of like-minded people across the globe." But "like-minded" is a bit of a misleading word; what unifies members of ASMALLWORLD is, in fact, the size of their budgets. The site originally attracted investors such as Harvey Weinstein; the filmmaker was was, at one point, the largest single investor. Over time, the site fell off the public's radar ... until now.
Heller has recently undertaken the project of reinventing ASMALLWORLD.COM, "taking it from an exclusive social network into an internationally-focused travel and lifestyle club," according to an article in the Huffington Post. This March, the site cleansed itself of many preexisting members; it sent out a notice warning that "as part of a larger initiative to ensure the integrity of our membership, we are closing our community to new members on March 1, 2013. As Jezebel put it in other words, ASMALLWORLD began a "big purge" ridding itself of "regular American trash." Believe it or not, Lindsay Lohan and Tiger Woods were among the people kicked to the curb as the start-up seeks a more reliable image, according to Techcrunch.com.
The site welcomes new members by invitation only, and now all subscribers must pay an annual fee of $105 in order to guarantee that the site allows "no fakes or frauds." In addition, the fee goes toward a variety of "perks and privileges," including "travel discounts at top hotels and VIP access into some of the world's best nightclubs," as reported by HuffPo. The site has about 250,000 members.
In defense of the fee, "It's not about logging onto the website, it's that you might meet your husband through ASMALLWORLD, or get a job, or meet a whole new group of friends," Heller said. Plus, ASMALLWORLD wrote to members "we think it's a small price to pay for something as priceless as trust ..." or a trust fund, perhaps?
The reforms have earned their share of controversy. But while the concept promoted by ASMALLWORLD is certainly exclusive and elitist, it's totally ethical. ASMALLWORLD is only one of many niche social networking sites that caters to specific groups divided by lifestyles and socioeconomic, racial, religious factors.
In fact, ASMALLWORLD is not even the only social network that caters to the elite. Decyenne.com and Affluence.org are two similar sites for the wealthy, and the latter actually requires members to "have a net worth of over $3 million or have an annual income of $300,000."
If ASMALLWORLD wins the award for most materialistic site, BeautifulPeople and HotEnough take the cake for the most superficial. These two sites run similar screening processes to weed out new members who are not subjectively attractive enough. According to Business Insider, more than six million people have applied for membership but only one in eight who apply are accepted, according to HotEnough director, Greg Hodge.
Moreover, sites that filter members based on religious affiliation — JDate.com for Jewish singles and ChristianMingle.com — have been growing in popularity. Greg Lieberman, the brains behind both of these social networking sites, actually said JDate is "by any measure is the most successful niche dating site out there." Lieberman is also the creator of BlackSingles.com, main competitor of Blackpeoplemeet.com — websites whose key demographic is self-explanatory.
While some social networking sites have earned controversial reputations for gearing towards very specific clientele, the strategy makes sense. There are people who prioritize certain factors — such as religion, race or even, in the case of ASMALLWORLD members, income — when deciding who to date or socialize with. These "categories" may play an especially important role when it comes to finding a spouse with whom to raise a family with. While we may call such attitudes narrow-minded, judgemental, or myopic, they are not necessarily immoral.
There is one social networking site that is, in fact, ethically questionable: AshleyMadison.com, that draws members in with a plug that reads "Life is short. Have an affair." Perhaps most alarming: 13.2 million members around the world have actually joined the sleazy site since 2001. So call these social networking sites what you will, but clearly many individuals see something desirable are flocking to them.