From journalists covering Iraq and fashion stalwarts to PhD professors and Hollywood actors, you will be rubbing shoulders -- albeit in the virtual world -- with some such and more on this exclusive, by invitation-only online community A Small World (ASW). This ten-year-old portal offers its members a space where they can trade tips about a luxury condo in Miami or exchange notes about the best places to travel in the fall or share details about a city they might have just travelled to. In the age of mass-accessed social networking sites, an invitation to ASW has always been coveted by the glitterati around the globe.
However, with the online realm witnessing changes, revisions and improvements every single day, a decade is a long time for any portal to stick to past formats and service offerings. Today, A Small World seeks to be much smaller -- almost half of its original size of 850,000 members. "All social networks that started a decade ago like MySpace have become irrelevant today. One has to constantly reinvent oneself to stay relevant. And that's why we are relaunching the portal," said CEO Sabine Heller on her recent trip to New Delhi.
One of the first changes has been to shift from an ad-sales model to a subscription model (annual membership fee of $105), with expansion of the site to include a Member Privileges Programme, an enhanced events section and ASMALLWORLD Foundation. "Some of the other social networking sites like Facebook have 80 million false subscribers. With our subscription model, we have greater control over the member's identity," she says. Members need to adhere to strict anti-criminal activity rules. And those who don't are requested to leave the community as Lindsay Lohan found out recently. Also, for the first time in ten years membership forms will be put up online. "India is our first test market for this; we are looking at 1,000 applications from the country," says Heller. Already the site boasts of several members from India such as fashion designer Bibhu Mohapatra, Maithili Ahluwaila, owner of lifestyle boutique Bungalow 8 and Rahul Akerkar, founder and managing director of Degustibus Hospitality that owns Indigo.
Akerkar is all praise for ASW. "It is really nice to interact with likeminded people in the community, and not a gazillion people liking everything that's put up," says Akerkar who has been a member since 2004. "Part of being a network that has restricted entry gives you the confidence that people are genuinely interested and passionate about the things that they recommend. There is a utility factor to it." Akerkar has even had several interesting business-related queries from across the world.
What also interests members are the 500 plus deals and VIP discounts on offer solely for them by luxury brands, hotels, partner companies such as Cathay Pacific, Good Earth, Bungalow 8, so on and so forth. "We also have offer deals from 120 nightclubs across 75 cities in the world," says Heller.
But the most exciting component of the site happens to be A Small World Adventurer section. Two members are sent to a city that they have never been to before for a couple of days, with 100 dollars per day for the trip and airfare paid for by the portal. Janina Joffe, London-based gallerist, was part of the first edition of A Small World Adventurers that took place in March this year. "I was sent to Tokyo and I found out about the destination only a week before departure. The Mandarin Oriental let me have a room for free when I spoke to them about my trip and the rules and budget that I had to stick to," says Joffe who is the director of the online gallery, East of Mayfair. She manages to pack a bagful of adventures in this five-day long trip -- whether it was making new friends, supping on authentic Japanese fare with the locals or dressing up in a vintage Kimono. "I even had a samurai lesson, took a boat trip, saw the early plum tree blossoms and met lots of different members," she says. Now Joffe and Heller are on a lookout for the next set of adventurers, who should be spontaneous, outgoing, fun and curious. "They will meet a lot of different people and hence need to be openminded about the decisions they make while travelling alone in a place they have never been to. I think it also helps to speak more than one languge as well, since the ASW community is so international and diverse wherever you go," she explains.
The criterion for the adventurer is pretty much the what Heller looks for in an ASW member as well. "He or she should be in the mid-30s, be a citizen of the world, an avid traveller-- someone who has the ability to look beyond the borders," she says.