An exclusive internet community called Eleqt prepares to open its Dubai branch. Membership is by invite only, and a one-off US$5,000 (Dh18,366) joining fee is mandatory.
Eleqt.com delivers gold-class social networking to the Gulf
For the mega-rich, it's a generally regarded truth that they long to be shielded from the masses.
When in the air, while they lounge on their spacious recliners at the front of the plane, a swiftly drawn curtain distances them from the cramped riff-raff in economy.
Then, while out partying, velvet ropes and thickset bouncers separate their VIP areas from the sweaty throng elsewhere in the nightclub.
However, until recently, the World Wide Web was mostly an egalitarian realm, with the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace welcoming members from all walks of life.
Now, it seems, virtual barriers are being hastily erected across the internet, with the creation of numerous social networking sites that preclude membership to those of insufficient means.
Thus, the great and the good are free to mingle online with similar high-net-worth individuals, while leaving traditional social media to the unkempt multitudes.
One of the newest of these exclusive internet communities is Eleqt.com, formed recently as a merger between the luxury goods supplier Quintessentially Group and the Elysiants website.
After the opening of offices in London, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo in 2012, Dubai is the latest city to be earmarked for its own local branch, with its launch due to be heralded at the end of the month with a lavish party.
Overseeing the expansion in this region is the company's Middle East director Amir Ghaffarpour, an Iranian-Swedish former PR professional.
He said Dubai's ostentatious populace and its craving for high-end goods made it ripe territory for his website's growth plans.
"Dubai is the business hub for the Middle East, and it's a luxurious kind of place, so it's kind of obvious that we should be based here," he says.
"There's a lot of well-off people here. In terms of our members, the UAE is actually the fourth biggest market in terms of members. In the UAE, we already have approximately 10,000 members out of about 130,000 in the whole world. But, obviously, we'd like many more from over here, which is why we're setting up an office here."
For the affluent folk who sign up to Eleqt, the online service they receive is not dissimilar to that offered by Facebook. So, they can build a network of friends by accepting and sending out requests, post photos and update their statuses with amusing observations about their daily goings on. Users are also inundated with invites to swanky parties and advertisements for high-end designer goods, holidays and services.
What differentiates it from the usual social media is that undesirables are vetted out, as membership is by invite only, or through paying a one-off US$5,000 (Dh18,366) joining fee.
"This is because we want to keep it trusted and limited to similar-minded people," says Ghaffarpour. "We want our members to be high-level executives, entrepreneurs and decision makers. When you create something for this kind of demographic, the things you offer automatically attract similar-minded people.
"If somebody is paying several thousands of dollars for membership, then they will obviously have a certain level of income and a certain level of interest in a luxury lifestyle. So, we can't monitor 100 per cent exactly who joins, but there are indicators into how much people earn," he contends.
Ghaffarpour offers statistics to back this up. He says research has found that 65 per cent of the Eleqt community have yearly salaries of $250,000. Of these, 30 per cent earn more than $1 million a year, while five per cent are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"The majority are big earners and a few are very well-known people, although, obviously, I can't tell you who they are," Ghaffarpour says.
Even with the world's financial woes of recent years, the number of users had steadily increased, he says.
"What crisis?" jokes Ghaffarpour. "You know, the economic crisis is not as bad as it was two or three years ago. In this region, people are still making money and people are spending more money than ever.
"The time when we launched Elysian a few years ago, obviously [the economic downturn] had an effect on us. But right now, especially after the merger, things are bouncing back. The rich people are getting richer and, globally, more and more people are becoming billionaires."
Ghaffarpour believes that as social media develops, it will fragment from a series of ubiquitous sites into multifarious services for differing sections of society.
He says: "Take Facebook. It's very powerful, but it's so massive that many people feel they don't have any identity left on it. Social media has become unsocial. So we are trying to encourage our members to be social through the events we organise. So they're not just sitting behind a laptop. You actually go and experience the online experience offline, with a certain group that you trust."
But, especially in the West, with growing enmity towards the superrich - the so-called one per cent - aren't elite websites like Eleqt just fuelling further antagonism?
Ghaffarpour admits this could be the case, but says it's not a consideration for his clientele.
"Being wealthy is nothing to be ashamed of, so why shouldn't people show off their wealth?" he argues. "In some regions, you have to be a bit careful about flaunting your wealth. But over here, it's not a big worry. And of course, if people are wealthy, through our group they can share their experiences with each other as it's a closed, invitation-only group.
"You know, some people can afford a Lamborghini and some people can only afford Toyotas. That's just life."
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