Why BranchOut is not a LinkedIn killer

job searchThe all-Facebook career networking service BranchOut announced today it has raised $25 million in new fundraising. The Timeline app has managed to leverage its access to the social network’s massive user base as well as its recently launched mobile app to gather an impressive number of registered accounts.

All of the momentum has, of course, drawn whispers of a LinkedIn dethroning. LinkedIn has long dominated the social career platform market, edging out veterans like Monster and CareerBuilder. The site has managed to keep its professional demeanor while integrating Twitter and Facebook friendly features. But now it would appear the BranchOut is breathing down its neck, for a couple of reasons.

One: being a Facebook app gives BranchOut the potential to access the site’s 850 million users. And Timeline apps have a viral way of spreading on the site – once a handful of friends are using one, it seems to spread like wildfire (it’s growing by three users a second right now). And two: it’s going mobile first, not second. No time and money will be wasted on created a standalone platform; BranchOut knows that eyes are glued to smartphones and that (and Facebook) are how it will sell its product.

While that’s all well and good, I have a few issues with the idea that BranchOut will overtake LinkedIn. For starters, I’m not quite as wooed by BranchOut’s recent growth. Since the app launched, I’ve gotten requests to join people using it that I haven’t heard from in years – and perhaps that I don’t want to involve in my career objectives. And it’s likely thanks to BranchOut’s vague permissions screen to invite all your friends. Notice how well hidden the “skip this screen” icon is. I’m willing to bet more than a few users have unwittingly spammed their friend lists.

invite your friends

The user interface leaves something to be desired as well. There’s not enough profile curation (because it’s just pulling your Facebook profile – again, something I’m not thrilled by) and you can’t add your resume.

The result is simply that BranchOut isn’t quite professional enough for a great many of us. It’s described as much by CEO Rick Marini who says LinkedIn is focused on “the white-collar segment” and that BranchOut is for the “Facebook generation.” It’s a strange distinction to make – it’s like Marini is trying to make LinkedIn sound like the man and BranchOut the rebel trying to fight it. But the jobs I found were fairly disappointing: mostly hourly jobs, temporary positions, or for scammy-sounded businesses.

Most importantly, it’s a little hard to buy the idea that Facebook should be used as a professional networking platform. The social networking site is first and foremost about socializing – it’s more casual, more personal, and oftentimes more profane. And recently, there’s been a big emphasis from critics and Facebook itself on making sure you share what you want with who you want, which means that plenty of your profile is segmented off from being publicly viewed. So if you’re job searching using a Facebook-only app, you’re instantly limiting yourself to a handful of people, or limiting how much others can see.

With LinkedIn, you’re creating from scratch your “work self.” You put forward the face you want to, not the one you’re forced to. Work life should be separate from personal life, and a different platform for networking each of these selves seems to solve that.

Maybe BranchOut will eventually be able to leverage Facebook’s Open Graph, but for the moment the line between a career social network and a personal one is thick enough that you shouldn’t delete your LinkedIn account.  

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