Social networking may have started with friends gossiping in high school and college on MySpace, but users are now turning to networking sites for professional reasons as well. Work is becoming as important as play in this new medium, with job-seeking as crucial as dating. Being able to see all your contacts' contacts helps people find multiple routes into the company they want to join. And the young demographic is broadening to include the parents of the teenagers who pioneered social networking in the first place (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/15/07, "Social Networking: Blah, Blah, Blah").
In response, Facebook and other general-purpose social networking sites are creating business offshoots. And other sites that are focused solely on business networking are popping up all over the world. Here's our roundup of the best sites to consider when expanding your online Rolodex:
Doostang, Palo Alto, Calif.
The founders, alums from Harvard University and mit, created the curious name for this site by jumbling the letters in the Latin term dos tango, which loosely means to reach for talent. This invite-only site was founded in 2005, now has 250,000 users, and targets 20- to-35-years-olds in the country's top schools and companies to help them find each other and new jobs. The site was inspired by the studies of Stanford University researcher Mark Granovetter, who found that 70% of jobs are discovered through networking. Google has hired 30 to 40 people from the site, says Doostang co-founder Mareza Larizadeh. It's heavy on high-end finance jobs at such firms as investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and consultants McKinsey, he says. Other employers who have recently hired Doostang members include MTV, Apple, eBay, and ABC.
LinkedIn, Mountain View, Calif.
As of the end of August, LinkedIn boasts more than 13 million active users in five continents. It targets professionals between the ages of 25 and 65 and lets them connect with others in their current jobs, past jobs, or schools they have attended. People use it to maintain professional ties or for specific tasks such as tapping their contacts to find a good attorney or to do due diligence on a company they're looking to interview or invest in. Even though its services are currently offered only in English, half of its market is overseas, with India and Brazil being its fastest-growing international hubs. Ashish Kumar, the director of Tekriti Software, a social networking startup in New Delhi, likes "the no-nonsense attitude" of LinkedIn, and says it appeals to those who are so busy at work they have little time for idle surfing on social networking sites.
Xing, Hamburg, Germany
Xing is shaping up to be LinkedIn's chief rival. While it has fewer users—3.5 million—the German networking site operates in 16 languages, and its strategic partnerships and acquisitions this year will give it access to new markets. In March it announced a deal with ZoomInfo, the search engine that trawls the Internet to collect details on professionals (without their knowledge). By this fall, Xing users will be able to tap into ZoomInfo's profiles of nearly 36 million business people and 3.8 million companies worldwide. In May, it acquired Neurona, a networking site that has 850,000 members in Spain and Latin America. Xing connects people to jobs and contacts at companies and also recently added a personal brand-management feature that allows people to influence what shows up first when their name is Googled.
Founded in 2004 by United Capital Investment, a Chinese investment firm that funds startups, Wealink describes itself as a "social capital bank." It mixes entertainment and business and helps people find their next job or maintain their digital profile. While still in a testing phase and operating only in Mandarin, it has 1 million registered users and room to grow: According to the latest report from the China Internet Network Information Center, 46 million Chinese Web surfers use the Internet while at work. Other similar homegrown sites that have sprung up in China include Linklist and Tianji. While social networking is gaining in popularity among adults, says analyst Ning Liu of investing advisory firm bda (China) Ltd., its main users are the young, and they tend to use it more for entertainment than business. But that's changing as they begin to enter the workforce.
SiliconIndia, Bangalore and Fremont, Calif.
This networking platform, an outgrowth of Bangalore media company Silicon Media Technologies, and Silicon India magazine in Fremont, Calif., is designed to connect Indians around the world for professional purposes. With nearly 100,000 users, it has an apprentice and mentoring program pairing the young and the old, and organizes career fairs in India and America. Microsoft, America Online, and Cisco have hired through SiliconIndia. Rival sites include San Francisco's techTribe, which has an audience of 300,000 professionals in India. NEN Online, an offshoot of India's National Entrepreneurship Network, is another popular homegrown site for the Indian professional set.
Facebook, Palo Alto
Founded three years ago solely as a social-networking site, Facebook opened to people with corporate addresses in 2006 and is increasingly used for work as well as play. It now has 37 million users and thousands of business networks. Privacy features, such as control over which people see your profile and how much of it they can see, helps attract the more cautious. Facebook has developed other business-friendly features, such as the ability to use contacts to lend or borrow money—to help fund startups, for example. You can now even buy or sell items, à la eBay, with people in your networks.
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