The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, Lisa Chau, and do not necessarily represent those of Dartmouth College or the Tuck School of Business.
At a time when Facebook stock continues to plummet, is there a market for a new social networking site? Judging by the heightened anticipation expressed by members of Swedish Count Erik Wachtmeister’s first invite-only site, A Small World (aSW), the answer is a resounding YES.
Wachtmeister launched aSW in March 2004 by seeding the site with 500 particularly well-connected friends and contacts from his personal address book. Additional members joined the site by invite-only from existing members. Demand far exceeded supply, but Wachtmeister would eventually sell a major stake in the company to Hollywood media moguls, Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Currently, Patrick Liotard-Vogt serves as the company’s Chairman and majority shareholder.
Since its inception, aSW has seen its numbers swell while the integrity of the group became increasingly diluted. It’s all too common to find recurring forum comments reminiscing about the early days of the site when membership was much more exclusive and trusted. Ex-patriate, Trevor Whiteman offers an example, “I was able to rely on an aSW member who I’d only communicated with via email and telephone to chaperone my 18 year old daughter on her first trip alone to Manhattan.”
Can Wachtmeister’s new social navigating site, Best of All Worlds (BoAW) bring back the values which made aSW such a success during its early years? The Count is confident enough that he has funded BoAW personally. European and U.S. Investors, as well as a royal Saudi family member also finance the site.
5,000 invites were sent out in May and the membership already boasts more than 20,000 members representing over 150 countries. The iPhone app went live in July,
Expectations are mixed.
Ximena Peón is optimistic, “I’m expecting to find those witty, fun and tolerant people I’ve had the pleasure to come across on aSW and shared a lot through Facebook afterwards. People whose aim is to share comments, thoughts, information and knowledge with their network and making my life richer just by having the opportunity to be part of it.”
Aruna Sujanani concurs and adds, “I like the fact that [BoAW will] have different modes enabling it to be more social or business oriented… in aSW all interactions are done on the forums, which aren’t very user-friendly, so I am hoping that BOAW has a better way of communication with the members.”
“The forums became a focal point for interactions with members in the initial stages, but as with most sites the novelty wore off and connection continued with a few through other mediums,” Whiteman explains. “I expect to find BoAW to maintain the values of the early aSW, though I don’t have high hopes as so much of the internet has been diluted with multiple networks and individuals providing inflated profiles.”
Wachtmeister fully agrees that cyberspace has become too big and chaotic, overloaded with information and commercial bias. “We don’t need more information; we need more and better filters to cut through the noise, clutter and vanity. Best of All Worlds aims to be the ultimate discovery and cutting edge, matching platform for people, products and services available. Through groups based around common interests and similar backgrounds, my new site will enable members to navigate and leverage relevant, collective intelligence of the trusted few rather than the wisdom of the crowds.”
As member of aSW, I have nothing but the highest hopes for BoAW.
The former simultaneously expanded and tightened my international network of connections, leading to invitations to visit new friends in London, Japan and Norway among others. My formerly US-centric address book became exceedingly global in a matter of 2 years. Six degrees of separation became three degrees.
Thanks to aSW, I befriended and interviewed Luciano Quarta, one of the biggest experts of administrative law in Italy. He has been featured in the Italian newspaper, Italia Oggi, as the week’s Avvocati Oggi (Lawyers Today)
This summer I taught at MIT and invited my newest aSW friend, Dr. Luis Rey Goñi from Spain to speak with my students. The French government decorated him with the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques while the Italian government decorated him with the Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana as well as the Caballero de la Orden de la Estrella de la Solidaridad.
Dr. Goñi expects BoAW to “enhance its focus to all relevant aspects of the highest forms of culture, which would make it really appealing” while I look forward to exploring BoAW’s travel utilities. Last year, on a business trip to Hong Kong, I would have spent my last evening abroad alone if not for aSW’s Geolocator. After a drawn-out and comical (in hindsight only) 2-hour exchange in the Mandarin Oriental hotels, Pierre-André Montjovet from France and I decided to go to Tsim Sha Tsui to share Tête de Moine frommage, discuss Swiss watches and German sports cars and enjoy A Symphony of Lights over Victoria Harbor. That night remains one of my favorite memories and we still correspond on a regular basis.
Interest in BoAW continues to grow.
“Best of All Worlds definitely seems like an interesting concept, but I don’t see it as competition to Facebook or LinkedIn – It serves a different purpose and it’s for a very niche group of people,” observes Amanda Bohan, who worked as a part of the social media leadership team at MEC, one of the world’s largest media agencies. “I like the idea of the “worlds” section because I think it will allow members to connect on a deeper level which Facebook doesn’t currently provide. And while LinkedIn does have groups where people can discuss common interests, it’s really limited to professional topics whereas Best of All Worlds will foster both personal and professional conversation.”
Bart de Witte is a fan of the app for iPhone. “BoAW combines all leading edge mobile social networking technologies with the exclusivity of high end networking opportunities,” he states. “I mostly appreciate the heavy integration of location services. I can travel and easily connect to strangers that are traveling in the same region — The fact that the membership is still very exclusive lowers the barriers to connect with those I don’t already know. I know that the aSW app is similar, but the BoAW app is better designed and easier to use.”
BoAW promises to deliver a “global social discovery within an intimate and trusted community. Not endless online noise. [To] discover people, common passions, and compelling information for tomorrow, not yesterday, in worlds of shared interests and friends.” If the site succeeds in its mission, then it really will be the best of all worlds.
Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. She has been published in US News and Forbes.