Welcome to the networking website aSmallWorld if, that is, you're the right sort of person. The six-month-old site connects style-conscious professionals so that they can share jet-setting tips and fine-dining picks. But unlike other cybercommunities like Friendster, you must be invited to aSmallWorld by a member to gain access. Once you're in, four more members have to "connect" to you before you can ask like-minded friends to join. You connect when you click on a name and the person "accepts" you.
aSmallWorld CEO Erik Wachtmeister, 49, a former investment banker whose father was Sweden's ambassador to the U.S., says his 30,000 users are moneyed celebrities, models and bankers between 25 and 35 years old, living in Europe or North America. "It's like a club," he says. "What's the point of inviting everybody? You're not going to have the same cozy feeling. Our members want it to be private."
aSmallWorld is one of several sites accused by sharp-tongued bloggers, like New York's Gawker, of velvet-roping the Internet. Another site is LinkedIn, which connects in-the-know businesspeople looking for partners and employees. Google has an invitation-only network, orkut, and recently launched an exclusive e-mail service, Gmail. If your invitation to snooty sites gets, um, lost in the mail, you can always check out social-networking free-for-alls such as tribe or MySpace or get-together stalwart Meetup.
Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman says that while open sites will, by their nature, remain more popular, the Net merely serves its users. "It's a public utility, and people do crazy things," he says. "There's no standard by which the Internet should operate."
aSmallWorld has its own standards. If an undesirable somehow gets in and breaks the rules say, by using obscene language members can click an ABUSE button. This alerts the webmaster, who warns the offender or bounces him or her into cyberoblivion along with the rest of us.