Hoovers Launching Business Social Networking Site

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When it comes to social networking, sites that target businesspeople are pretty small potatoes. LinkedIn, the category leader, has 7.8 million members, a respectable niche, but not in the same league as MySpace or Facebook.

There are at least a couple of reasons why. My theory, not entirely original, is that the big consumer sites are not about social networking at all but about content. People don’t use them because they really want to acquire a million so-called “friends,” but because they enjoy creating content about themselves and reading or viewing other people’s content. It’s a social life for people who don’t want to be all that social in real life.

On the other hand, businesspeople are interested in making real connections for career and potential sales purposes. If there is compelling content anywhere to be found on LinkedIn, I have yet to find it. It is not a place you go to hang with your homes. In an effort to broaden its appeal, LinkedIn recently started allowing its members to use their professional contacts for nonbusiness purposes, like finding recommendations for plumbers and lawyers.

The second barrier to broad use of social networking sites by managers and executives is the “Microsoft” factor. Most people in corporations work primarily with desktop business apps-Outlook, Excel, Word-which are not integrated with the web. Going back and forth from the web to desktop applications is fairly easy but tiresome enough to limit traffic.

Hoovers.com, the business intelligence service, and social software maker Visible Path are about to launch a new business networking site called Hoovers Connect that addresses the desktop/web integration problem. Users who sign up for Connect can download software from Visible Path that tracks who they send messages to via e-mail and how frequently within Outlook. The service will eventually include Web-based e-mail systems like Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

Connect then uses this information to build a relationship map to determine how they user is connected to other businesspeople across the country. For example, when you search Connect for information about IBM, you’ll get a box that says: “Connect to IBM through someone you know.” The Visible Path software maps the contacts between you and workers in various parts of the target company, then determines who in the network would be the most likely to connect you to the person you really want to reach.
If the right contacts are found, the service sends an e-mail to that person (whose identity remains shielded from outside users) identifying you as someone seeking an introduction, and offering the option to approve or decline. If the invitation is accepted, the intermediary’s identity is then revealed to the user.

Like LinkedIn, Hoovers Connect is not a threat to the numbers dominance of MySpace or Facebook but it’s a natural fit for Hoovers and a surefire way to drive more traffic to its web site and sell more of its research products and services.

The Conect service was supposed to be previewed on Hoovers.com on Monday but, as of noon, it wasn’t there. However, you’ll find the beta at Visible Path.


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Jerry Bowles has more than 30 years of varied experience as a writer, editor, marketing consultant, corporate communications director and blogger. For the past 20 years, he has produced and written special supplements on new technologies for a number of magazines, including Forbes, Fortune and Newsweek.


Hoovers Launching Business Social Networking Site
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