It’s the first marriage I’ve seen of social networking and virtual worlds: that of Auckland-based Small Worlds and San Francisco-based Hi5.com, by most measures one of the world’s Top 20 social-network sites. A bit about SmallWorlds.com (which is not a kids’ virtual world) from Venture Beat: Like Hi5, it’s aimed at people 13 and up. It has signed up 650,000 users since launch last December, about 65% of them female and half aged 13-18 (30% 19-35). One of its attractions is that, in building out your “small world,” you can “easily import anything [you’ve] created on the Web.” Small Worlds also has “built-in incentives to keep users coming back. The more you participate, the more access you get to virtual items.” Hi5 had already launched its games channel earlier this year, so this seems a very logical next step. It also already had a virtual economy in place (users could pay for virtual gifts with real-money-based Hi5 “Coins”), so now users will have spaces in which to place virtual furniture, art, plants, etc., along the lines of the very international Habbo, which could be considered a precursor to the Hi5/SmallWorlds arrangement. What’s new is mature social network and fairly well-established VW making a go of it together.