September 25, 2014
By Katie Humphrey
It could be a story from “The Onion”: Join an online country club for the elite, memberships starting at $9,000.
Except it’s true. Last week, a Minneapolis man launched Netropolitan.Club, a social network for the rich and exclusive. Forget the commoners on Twitter and Facebook. Netropolitan founder James Touchi-Peters bills his site as “a place to talk about fine wine, fancy cars and lucrative business decisions without judgment.”
Its Sept. 16 launch got so much buzz — mostly of the snarky variety — that Jimmy Fallon mentioned it on “The Tonight Show,” imagining posts about firing the gardener and the caviar bucket challenge.
The site’s landing page got so many hits it was slow to load. Then the hackers descended. On Sunday evening, Touchi-Peters, who used to conduct the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra, pulled the site down for security upgrades.
“We were aware that people would try to hack the Netropolitan Club, but we were not prepared for the overwhelming amount of attacks,” he said in a statement posted on the Netropolitan Club’s Facebook page. (Because, apparently, even elite social networks need Facebook.)
He said it would be back up by the end of the week.
But will it catch on? We may never know. Touchi-Peters won’t say how many members have joined the site, or give any hint of their backgrounds. He also won’t give anyone a peek at the advertising-free network — unless they pony up the whopping membership payment.
“The attraction is that it’s private,” he said. “So far it’s exceeded our wildest expectations.”
Still, it could be a tough sell.
Privacy is valuable to the wealthy, but so is value, said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, a New York City research firm specializing in data and insights of high-net-worth consumers.
“I’m a bit of a skeptic,” Pedraza said of Netropolitan. “What are the benefits?”
Previous attempts to create elite-only networks have mostly fizzled, Pedraza said. One that is still active, ASmallWorld, is focused on jet-setting young adults, offering travel perks and hosting parties around the world. Membership, by invitation only, is $105 a year.
Touchi-Peters, a musician who travels frequently, said Netropolitan is aimed at like-minded people who may not have time to socialize in person, a group he calls the “working wealthy.” Or, he said, it could also appeal to rich people who live in rural areas and don’t have access to traditional social clubs. Users create profiles and can post on message boards organized by interest.
“Most people are going to join to meet other people,” Touchi-Peters said.
More specifically, people who can afford $9,000 upfront and the subsequent $3,000 annual fee.
So much for the idea of an open, egalitarian Internet.
That was a myth, anyway, said Seth Lewis, assistant professor of digital media and journalism at the University of Minnesota. Even Facebook started as the digital playground of Ivy League college students.
“It’s almost like [Netropolitan is] trying to put the genie back in the bottle,” Lewis said, referring to the site’s exclusivity. “The proposition is interesting. It’s hard to see how it succeeds.”As for the name Netropolitan, Touchi-Peters said, it’s a play on the words “metropolitan” and “Internet.” He wanted something that spoke to a cosmopolitan crowd, but the title “Cosmopolitan” was already taken.
“Netropolitan does not stand for ‘net worth,’ ” Touchi-Peters said.
But you’d better be worth a lot if you’re going to get past the virtual gate.