Stars sign up to well-kent face book

THE world is small, if you're rich and well connected.

The invitation-only, social networking site,, has become as essential as Versace or Chanel for the jet set.

"I need to rent 20 very luxury sports cars for an event in Switzerland on the 6th September," a member wrote recently on the Forum, aSmallWorld's popular nucleus. "Maserati - Ferrari - Lamborghini - Aston Martin ONLY!"

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Another announced: "If anyone is looking for a private island, I now have one available for purchase in Fiji."

Founded four years ago, the site, promoted as a Facebook for the social elite, has grown from 500 members to about 150,000 registered users. At a time when Christina Aguilera has 466,550 MySpace friends, aSmallWorld has attempted to create an internet niche by cultivating an air of exclusivity. Quentin Tarantino, Paris Hilton and Tiger Woods have all joined.

The site functions much like a private club: members, who pay no fee, induct newcomers on the basis of education, profession and, most important, their network of personal contacts. Sleeker than MySpace or Facebook, is not the type of site where one is likely to come across videos of amateur motorcycle stunts or girls in bikinis.

Users, with an average age of 32, are mostly graduates with a taste for living extravagantly on more than one continent. Sixty-five per cent are from Europe, 20% from the United States, the rest scattered worldwide.

"We have put together a platform where a definitive group of people are separated by only three degrees," Erik Wachtmeister, aSmallWorld's founder, says often and loudly.

Advertisers were scarce at first. But in the past six months, luxury brands have come on board after a push from investors, including the movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, the largest single investor in aSmallWorld.

The draw, Weinstein said without a shred of irony, is "direct access to some of the world's most influential tastemakers", a community he sees as early adopters and a natural market for his films, books and fashions.

"We're dealing with a group of people that moves in social migration around the planet," said Joe Robinson, the new chief executive.

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Weinstein introduced Robinson, a former advertising executive with Fox Interactive Media, the owner of MySpace, to court advertisers like Lufthansa, Land-Rover, Credit Suisse, Moet & Chandon and Burberry. Olivier Stip, the vice president of marketing for Cartier North America, said that an advertisement placed in June generated lively traffic for the jeweller's Love collection.

Advertising rates are competitive with those of and, Robinson said. On average, clients spend $20,000 to $50,000 (10,000 to 25,000) a month, he said.

The company also arranges dinners and tastings where members can sample advertisers' products. For one recent gathering, Remy Martin supplied 4,000 bottles of its premium Cognac, valued at 100 each.

But the advertising presence raises questions about whom they are reaching and whether this business model works.

Robinson said 35% of aSmallWorld members log in every day. But Andrew Lipsman, a senior analyst at comScore Network, a company that rates online usage, said it was hard to track the number of unique visitors because the site was relatively small. "If there are a couple of hundred thousand registered users," he said, "probably only a fraction are visiting the site regularly." Compare that with Facebook, which in July had 30.6 million unique visitors, double last year's figure, Lipsman said.

Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research in California, said that for advertisers trying to concentrate on a group of influential people, a special-interest publication makes sense. "I liken advertising on aSmallWorld to advertising in the Harvard Business School alumni report," she said. "For luxury advertisers, the online options are fairly limited."

Sceptics are not sure just who is getting the message. "For truly wealthy consumers, time is the ultimate luxury," said Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing, which researches luxury brands. "These people are not going to waste it hanging about on a social networking site."