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Summary:

The Wall Street Journal has said it is planning to launch a LinkedIn-style social network for readers, and Bloomberg appears to be launching (or relaunching) one as well — but is this really what their readers or users want?

According to a recent investor presentation by Wall Street Journal publisher and Dow Jones CEO Lex Fenwick, the News Corp. entity is working on a new social network called WSJ Profile that would allow its readers to “participate in the sharing economy.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg appears to be relaunching a social network originally developed by BusinessWeek and now called Current, with a view towards doing the same thing. The only thing wrong with these ambitious plans, of course, is that LinkedIn and Twitter are pretty much already doing that.

In his slideshow for investors, which was noticed first by the Times of London, the Wall Street Journal publisher showed a mockup of a profile page for a social network that would connect readers of the newspaper and allow them to share personal messages, find other readers with similar interests and so on. The page includes sections for a short bio or “about me,” work experience, industry affiliations, awards and several other categories.

WSJ social network

Do WSJ readers want their own network?

Setting up this kind of network for readers to connect with each other makes perfect sense — or at least it would have five or six years ago, before LinkedIn and Facebook and other networks had become as dominant as they are now. But what the WSJ is describing looks and sounds virtually identical to LinkedIn — except that LinkedIn allows users to connect with thousands of different people, regardless of whether they read the Wall Street Journal or not.

Is being a WSJ reader enough of a draw to make such a network succeed? I’m doubtful, but it looks like the newspaper is going to give it a shot anyway. Presumably, it will then use the data that users upload or share to target advertising and other promotional efforts (although advertisers might also be more interested in LinkedIn). It’s worth noting that Fenwick didn’t mention any competitive threats from LinkedIn or anyone else in his presentation.

Keen tweet

Bloomberg is also feeling the pressure

Meanwhile, Bloomberg appears to be trying to jump-start a social network of some kind called Current — although all there is right now is a sign-up page and a somewhat uninspiring Twitter account that hasn’t posted anything since October. After doing some digging around, it looks to me like Current could be a re-branded or revamped version of BusinessWeek‘s Business Exchange or BWBX, which the magazine launched several years ago with the aim of creating an exclusive network for its readers, without much success.

Bloomberg’s core business is also clearly threatened by both LinkedIn and Twitter. Although the wire service has made the bulk of its multibillion-dollar revenues from selling its proprietary terminals, one crucial factor in the value of those terminals is the way they allow traders, brokers and other financial professionals to connect with each other, send instant messages and so on. Real-time market data is also important, obviously, but those connections are gold.

hirechelsea_portfolio_bloombergcurrent1

If you want to connect with someone in real-time about a topic, Twitter also has a massive network that allows you to do that, and it is far broader than Bloomberg’s — although that broadness could be seen as a disadvantage by some. There’s even a kind of finance-only version of Twitter called StockTwits (see disclosure below) that has become very popular with traders and investors. And LinkedIn also has a vast user base of corporate professionals, with many of the same features that a Bloomberg social network theoretically might offer.

So the question for both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg is: Why would readers or users come to your network instead of using those other ones? What are you offering that is superior, apart from the reflected glory of your brand name, that could overcome their established network effects? If you don’t have a strong answer to those questions, then you will almost certainly fail.

Disclosure: StockTwits is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, GigaOM. Om Malik, founder of GigaOM, is also a venture partner at True.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Shutterstock / Thomas Pajot

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  1. As someone who sat in front of a Bloomberg Terminal for years, it was quietly one of the most incredible social networks and still has the larger bank community completely beholden to it.

    If you meet a new client and you’re not on Bloomberg, you “don’t exist”. It’s where all communication takes place. However, great catch that the biggest threat to Bloomberg is StockTwits. Being out of the trading world, it completely replicates the community element and data efficiency of a Terminal for no cost.

  2. I really don’t know why they would want to do this? I don’t think they would take off very well, unless they were very business related.

  3. My problem with electronic “social networks” is that they encourage decision-making based on (very) limited information and no analysis. Twitter has replaced circuses as entertainment for the masses.

  4. David H Deans Saturday, June 1, 2013

    Mathew, as a marketer I’m encouraged by these proposals and view this in a positive light.

    But unlike you, I don’t think like a media-buyer, so my reason to want to join these networks would be to engage and participate in dialogue — not buy advertising. Moreover, even though I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for ten years and actively participate in their topical Discussion Groups, I believe that there’s room in the market for competition.

    Facebook is not a viable option for people like me — all about business, all of the time. My commercial commentary gets lost among the cute cat videos and photos of friend’s babies.

    You asked, “Why would readers or users come to your network instead of using those other ones?” — I believe the reason is topical context and purposeful engagement.

  5. I believe NYTimes.com discontinued TimesPeople back in 2011. Go figure.

  6. Stavros Rougas Sunday, June 2, 2013

    There is room for specific LinkedIn and Facebook verticals, from science to sports they exist and some will prove to be successful.

    But as you articulated Bloomberg and WSJ have a misplaced idea that the vertical is enough without having to rethink what the users in that vertical want.

    Big companies are terrible at such innovation. If they are smart they will buy a startup that has an interesting model and some traction and plug in their networks.

  7. Adam Popescu Monday, June 3, 2013

    Very interesting topic, we’ll be discussing this on the #muckedup chat this Tuesday at 8 EST. See you on Twitter.

  8. Raymond Duke Monday, June 3, 2013

    I don’t like this trend of having your own social network as a requirement to staying relevant.

  9. Congrats, Mathew Ingram, this is the dumbest, least-informed thing ever written about Bloomberg LP: “Bloomberg’s core business is also clearly threatened by both LinkedIn and Twitter.”

    You’ve never seen a Bloomberg terminal, apart from on a nightly business news segment, I’m sure, and yet you feel entitled to write such nonsense. Awful, awful stuff.

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