Should LinkedIn Be Afraid of BranchOut and Facebook?

BranchOut, a new startup that wants to bring LinkedIn-style business networking to Facebook, launched today with a Facebook application that pulls together information from your friends’ profiles about what companies they work for, have worked for in the past, as well as any other business-related details the app can find. It also includes a job board feature, which makes it easy to see whether there are openings at any of the companies friends in your network are associated with (the company plans to charge for this feature). Should LinkedIn be afraid of this new competitor? Yes and no.

BranchOut was founded by Rick Marini, former co-founder of Tickle.com, an early social-gaming site that got more than 200 million users before it was bought by Monster.com in 2004 for about $100 million. It was later shut down. Marini also founded and was the CEO of a social entertainment site called SuperFan.com.

At the moment, the BranchOut site directs users to install a Facebook app, which ingests their entire “social graph” (i.e., all of their friends and contacts) and then pulls up a kind of dashboard view of the corporate relationships within that group, along with a search bar that allows you to search for companies your friends might be associated with.

Not surprisingly, one big portion of the app is a friend bar that asks you to “grow your empire” by inviting your other Facebook friends to install the app. By doing this, the company says (in a video how-to that is embedded below), users can “unlock all your friends’ career data” as well that of their friends, since their corporate connections will also be revealed once your friends are added to your network. Of course, that’s assuming these friends-of-friends have filled out their corporate affiliations as part of their profiles, and also that they have chosen to make that information public using Facebook’s privacy settings (when I signed up, the app told me I am connected to more than 550 companies through friends, and almost 6,500 companies through friends of friends).

There’s no question BranchOut is a clear shot across the bow of LinkedIn, which is where most people go to post their resumes, look for job leads and network with others. LinkedIn has been busy over the past year adding social-networking style features pioneered by both Twitter and Facebook, including the ability to follow other users, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise to the company someone would choose to turn the tables by using Facebook’s network to recreate LinkedIn’s features.

What LinkedIn has going for it — apart from sheer size and the network effects of having more than 70 million registered users, of course — is that it is specifically a corporate network, one where users have become comfortable revealing their business affiliations and posting and responding to jobs. Facebook is a much broader and more personal social network, with games, photos, applications and other features that have nothing to do with business. Many people likely have both a LinkedIn corporate profile and a Facebook profile, and may actually prefer to maintain a church-and-state separation between the business and personal aspects of their lives.

For those who don’t mind mixing those two worlds, however, BranchOut could make for an appealing alternative to LinkedIn. And as LinkedIn adds more Facebook and Twitter-style features, it risks blurring the line between it and those other networks, something that could lower the competitive barriers for apps like BranchOut even further. Of course, LinkedIn could always just buy BranchOut, since it has claimed to be in the market for acquisitions.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Can Enterprise Privacy Survive Social Networking?

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