Are members (Marc?) of aSmallWorld sworn to Masons-style secrecy? Too bad, because while more egalitarian sorts out there might be be less fond than I am of a social networking site that is unabashedly elitist and exclusive, there is a lot to be learned from the idea.
For example, I like — a la Gmail’s early days — the notion of rationing membership invitations. That is, in effect, what happens via aSmallWorld’s policy that you must be invited by five members before you too can become a member. That is a clever idea, one that, while not bulletproof, forces the community to be more circumspect about who gets invited and who doesn’t.
I also like the idea of scarcity rather than abundance in communities. Too many social networking sites over-focus on getting Big N rather than thinking carefully about to whom their social network is appealing, then narrowing — rather than growing — their intended audience, and then providing services that make those people deeply attached to the network. For all their frisson, Friendster and Linkedin are cold and sterile places, over-stuffed communities that would feel little different if created and run by Wal-mart.