Best of All Worlds Review: The Social Network for the One Percent

This was originally written in July 2012, posting it here for posterity.

Last week the hotly anticipated Best of All Worlds launched. The app is Erik Wachtmeister’s latest project, for those unfamiliar with Wachtmeister, he was previously a co-founder of A Small World, which in a pre-Facebook world was MySpace for the elite. While the original site still exists, like MySpace it has failed to evolve and keep up more recent web app trends. Wachtmeister’s PR plant of a Wikipedia profile explains:

…the idea occurred to him during a wild boar hunt in the German forest. He stated “In traveling extensively to the world’s social hot spots for many years, I realized there was a community of global nomads who hang out together. I decided to make a business out of helping them meet and find solutions to their common problems.” The website launched two years before Facebook was made available to non-college members, and was dubbed “MySpace for millionaires” by the Wall Street Journal.

New members must receive an invitation from a pre-existing member with invitation privileges to be accepted. As of September 2007, the site had 150,000 users. By May 2008, the number had grown to 320,000 members, with about 65% of members from Europe and 20% from the United States. By April 2009, Wachtmeister had ceased to be active with managing the website, and membership was in excess of 500,000.

It’s unclear what happened to ASW. Some reports claim Wachtmeister had a falling out with the management team he brought in, while others report that he sold his stake and left willingly. From what I can gather it sounds like he had a vision of where he wanted to take A Small World that not everyone shared and parted ways to do his own thing. While ASW still exists, it is still very much stuck in 2004. Best of All Worlds looks very much like the realization of his original vision, now that better technology exists to create it. Venture capitalist Marc Andreesen summed up this mindset in a recentAll Things D interview when he stated, “Now we have the chance to build the businesses that we thought we were going to build in 1999.”

As for the actual Best of All Worlds app, it does a lot of things really well. It’s a little early to declare whether it will be a hit or not, but early indications are decent. (Also — I need to stop declaring everything I encounter as an early adopter is going to be the next big thing). Right now the app can be summed up as doing two general things. First, it allows you to connect to people and socially network with them (message, friend, etc.). Second, it acts as sort of city guide for the jet setting elite (search curated events, hotels, nightlife in major hotspots around the world).

I’m sure your first question is, “why do I need yet another social networking app?” Best of All Worlds is trying to bridge the social and professional worlds (think what you do on Facebook versus what you do on LinkedIn), but do it in a way that allows you to put on a good face for both, all within a community of like-minded, equally accomplished individuals (hence social networking for the 1%). The service is invitation only, so you have to know someone who has access to get access yourself. It remains to be seen if this will be enough to preserve a community of the right types of individuals.

The app is at the moment iPhone only, but there is a desktop companion site. When you login from your computer you only have basic access, but you’re allowed to do all the things that would be tedious to do from your phone. You can edit your profile, add interests, update profile pictures and most importantly send out the ten precious invites you start you’re given. With an increasing focus on the mobile world, any other mobile only sites should take note of how this is handled. People don’t want to type a bio out on the keyboard of their phone, some things are still best done from an actual keyboard.

Best of All Worlds has different modes (social, professional, family, party, private) and asks you to select a different photo for each. When you connect to different users on the site, you can select how you connect to them and have some control over what aspect of your online persona they see. Not totally revolutionary, but a very clever way to begin to bridge the social and professional gap (think “should I friend my boss on facebook?”). You can also pick what mode you’re in at any moment, conceivably so people can connect to you for the right reason. Most of the modes are fairly straightforward. I’m not really sure if the “private” mode is aiming to finally be grindr for rich people or something else. Just like Facebook’s poke feature, or Twitter’s hashtags, the modes will definitely evolve based on how users begin to use it.

A Small World existed before the idea of a user’s social graph was so important. Here BOAW has a slightly new approach. There is a pre-defined set of interests (edit: free form answers are also technically possible), with the ability to set the level of interest in said interests. So you could for instance, indicate Horseback Riding (casual) and Art Collecting (expert). This leads back in to how you connect to people. This feature allows it to make sense to connect to strangers if you have a shared interest (social), or need advice on a particular subject (professional). You could connect to totally random people, but you can also search people by degrees of connection (similar to LinkedIn). You can view within one or two degrees, meaning friend of a friend or friend of a friend of a friend. These two things coupled together make it so you’re not just adding all of your Facebook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections to yet another service, but instead make “networking” with new people more likely. This is a step forward in regards to the ways people can connect, view and interact with each other.

I realize the app is still very early (less than a week old), but I do have one major issue. My problem is with the email address you use to with your account. You can’t change it or add additional ones. Get invited through a company email address and a personal email address? Congrats, you have two separate accounts now. I got the invite on a company email address where I’m doing some consulting work. I definitely don’t plan on using this email address forever, nor do I want to confuse people by sending invites from it. Hopefully this gets resolves in future updates. All of the other issues involve lack of curated content or users, but both of these are forgivable for such a young service.

The app is free (at least for now). I’m not sure about monetization plans, but JetSetLife has an interview with the founder that sheds a little light on the topic. From the interview:

Rob: Okay. So let’s talk a little bit on how this company will be built in terms of monetizing. Will it be advertising or will it be PPC ads that people can buy like Google does? How will that work?

Erik: If you look at A Small World, it’s a hundred percent banner ads and email shots. And I find that a bit intrusive to just focus on that because they have too many banner ads and that’s where they get all the revenues from and it may be a bit intrusive especially if you send out emails where you get paid and if there’s a conflict of interest because the email may not be welcomed to the recipient. So we will have traditional banner ads for sure and we will do some email campaigns but we will limit it to maybe a quarter of our revenue model. And the other 3 revenue models will be micro campaigns and local listings; you know where are goal is to get thousands of listings and micro campaigns going for hotels, restaurants, lawyers and other professionals, real estate brokers and other services. The 3rd leg will be a freemium model that we talked about before where we hope to convert let’s say 10% or 15% of the most active users who want to subscribe to additional profile matching, etc. and the 4th leg which could be the largest is really e-commerce and lead generation where we’ll be able to partner up with really great services where we will enable them and make them available to our members either on a white label basis or on a direct basis.

Talk about another way of saying, “here are all obvious business models, we will figure it out eventually.”

Overall Best of All Worlds is doing some interesting things and I’ll keep an eye on it. What is far more interesting is what it represents, which is the future of social networking and the response to Facebook’s one billion users. Just like how MySpace once felt like it would never be replaced, but is now a derelict web property and the butt of many internet jokes, Facebook is now in the same position. No one knows what its eventual usurper will look like and some even doubt it will ever happen. The argument is “How does a service with one billion users ever get replaced? It’s impossible because it is so entrenched.” In my mind Facebook’s death knell will be a proliferation of niche social networking sites eating away at Facebook’s giant user base. Best of All Worlds is merely the first of many to come. Facebook’s death will be one of a thousand tiny paper cuts.

Is anyone else using the app? Let me know in the comments. The folks at boaw.com have limited the amount of users that can activate their accounts, even if they have an invite. Watch this space for updates on the situation.