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AMONG online networking sites, LinkedIn stands out as the specialized one — it’s for professional connections only.
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That distinction has given it staying power as Facebook’s predecessors have dropped away and as Facebook has grown to dwarf other sites. By keeping professional identity pristinely separate from the personal and the messy, LinkedIn, which is now publicly traded, has grown to more than 135 million members in 200 countries.
But challengers have arrived, in the form of apps. Rather than starting from scratch, independent software developers are trying to add a professional layer to Facebook — and are hoping that users will accept a less-than-complete separation of the professional and the personal.
“LinkedIn likes to say, ‘Facebook is for fun and LinkedIn is for professional purposes.’ What I like to argue is that’s no longer correct,” says Rick Marini, the chief executive ofBranchOut, a start-up that offers a Facebook app for job-related networking.
“I get asked for introductions to my LinkedIn connections all the time.” Mr. Marini says. “The problem is, these are people I’ve met for five minutes at a conference and I don’t feel comfortable vouching for them. My Facebook friends are all my real friends.” (The gregarious Mr. Marini has an impressive number of “real friends”: 1,800 Facebook friends, he says.)
When users join BranchOut, the software pulls information from Facebook about their education, current employer and job title, leaving out everything else.
Excluding things like indiscreet photos, however, doesn’t necessarily make Facebook an excellent basis for a professional identity. BranchOut shows prospective employers a person’s network of Facebook friends. These aren’t likely to have been assembled the way they are at LinkedIn, with the idea that one’s connections will be reviewed by strangers checking on professional qualifications.
“There are some people I’d prefer not to interact with in...