Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Wrote an article on the Smallworld website.

Idea behind the site is that there is a group of interconnected people around the world who have similar interests, concerns and problems. These people are wealthy, well-traveled and well-educated. They smallworld is the invitation-only community for these people.

Could gated communities grow more common on the Internet?

Counterintuitive for an open medium, but it does allow creation of self-selected target groups for advertisers, kind of like luxury magazines. Could almost be seen as the next generation of online publication.

UPDATE: Xeni's Wired article on ASW.


Hmmm... sounds kinda like the net in general before AOL plugged in. :)

Seriously, though, don't you think this kind of thing has always sort of existed online? Perhaps not always based on wealth or education, and not always formally invitation only, but I can think of a lot of examples. Realy, even, how many of the "a-list" bloggers are poor, uneducated, and poorly traveled? This just seems like a formalization of the elitism that already exists...

what amazes me (and almost makes me doubt the claims behind the site) is how awful the web design is. the picture of the guy stretching out into the wind is clip art-ish and the design in general reminds of a 50 dollar discount programmer's board hack. I wrote copy for for awhile and it wouldn't surprise me if the guy who did that site designed this one too.

I mean honestly the design here (which is not work safe)

is better than this:

I mean fuck even the picture is blurry and reeks of being stolden from a photo site's preview bar instead of purchased legimitately.
the logo is uninspired. I mean everything is 4th rate.


I think the "a-list" meme is corrosive and I think that advertising elitism is too.

I fail to see the purpose of it being gated (or rather, being exclusive)... other than a pure elitist agenda. Gated communities exist today as it is - WSJ is gated in that it charges a subscription fee. Yahoogroup, for example, requires moderators' approval to join...

Hey Thomas! I dug your article. Not linkwhoring, but I covered ASW recently (for Wired last month, here:

Last week, I crashed an ASW mixer with a gal-pal here in Beverly Hills. There were lots of Extremely Beautiful Persons, many ladies with Perfect Boobs, Driving Excellent Cars, with very important haircuts and hyphenated surnames. I felt inferior and superior at the same time.

The restaurant manager was super nice, but nobody else other than musicians really wanted to talk to us.

The next night, I went to a scifi folk music fest at a suburban Mariott, populated entirely by hardcore gamer/Trekkie/fantasy geeks who love Yoda and sing off-key with kazoos. We had a lot more fun there! The chee-tos were a little stale, though.

I remember that post Xeni. It was perfect.

These sorts of communities have existed forever. Every portal that has any kind of group or community support has facilities for excluding people because they have to - there will always be obnoxious people who just won't behave according to the norms of a given forum, or who are just useless (not net contributors).

The only difference here is a pandering to the cult of celebrity.

Joi, I agree; I think the a-list meme is harmful to what you and others are trying to accomplish with the blogging movement, but I'm sure you understand that people seem to crave a certain amount of elitism... it's like a at least certain part of the population has this weird need to elevate some people above the rest...

Xeni: CHOICE lines in that Wired article you did on Small World! Kudos. (Sorry to hear about the stale cheetos.)

Love it or hate it, seems to me that a self-selected community would be of great value to advertisers. Isn't that what luxury magazines do? The self-selection in magazines is those willing to pay for the subscription.

Harmful or not, closed online communities will be increasingly common IMHO. And there will be closed communities within closed communities. One of the driving forces is the increasing popularity of social software and networking. Counterintuitive? Not to me. Social software and social networking pulls and organizes far flung individuals together into tight groups. Bento-ism.

Yes, social software is remarkably powerful.

Yesterday I met up with blogger William Quiviger who told me how his 87-year old grandmother had started reading his blog in order to get updates on his sister's wedding.

She had never previously used a computer or mouse.

In the spirit of breaking through the gates, here’s Marc Canter’s post that reproduces the whole text of the April WSJ article about gated online communities:

Marc’s company Broadband Mechanics built some of ASW:

As Marc explained it over an open invitation dinner in London a couple of months ago, you have to see ASW from the viewpoint of Brad Pitt (his example). Brad needs an online service that he can use socially, invite his real-life friends to, know who people really are and not get overwhelmed by strangers who’d like to be his new best mates. From Brad’s point of view, this is pretty reasonable and not readily available elsewhere.

NB From the WSJ article - "You're not on a site that has millions of people, and you have no idea if someone says this is a great restaurant and you go there and then you end up eating at Denny’s," says Renny Harlin, a film director in Los Angeles and an investor in the site.

Brad, Renny, Xeni "crashed an ASW mixer with a gal-pal here in Beverly Hills."

If the golden rule of journalism is to follow the money, for ASW it seems to lead to Hollywood.

wow, it really speaks for your blog that there havent been yet any people leaving comments begging for invitations to asw! so tribe and asw were developed by the same company...

Well, the most important thing about ASW is that there are MANY users who most definatly should not be in there...I should know, cause I was a member of ASW and when I found these people there I asked for a resignation...

ASW is definatly 4th rate, and that they ever want to consider the fact that people might want to pay for further services shows what kind of intentions the owners might have. Either the owners are rich and dont need the money to support the homepage or they dont have enough money to support the cause, apprantly the latter argument is the true one...

Oh, a good tip. Measure the experience between the CEO and the CTO...the CEO has worked/working world wide in many great institutions, while the CTO is a student with too much time in Sweden. I wonder if the CEO is a strategic position of a homepage that has less revenue than the CTO over a week...but then again, they "need" corporate titles for such a small homepage with a flat hierarchy? Oh please...a hotdog stand having corporate titles makes more sence!

Gated Communities will become more and more as time goes by and I feel the subject will become as buzz word..I just found a site which is collecting links and press only for gated communities. which features a new site which seems to be more strict granting membership than the asmallworld site

It's very interesting to read your comments. I suppose there is no harm in gated communities, once you are part of one, you appreciate it. On the other side of the fence, it sounds elitist, however, I know many members use other sites to find new and interesting people. It's like everything, when it's (ASW) new it's exciting, but after a while it gets stale and desperate. Specialist interest websites are great and funny, do you have any favorites?

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