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LinkedIn's latest updates take a few hints from Facebook

Fresh off Bill Gates' high-profile debut on the business-networking site, LinkedIn has rolled out a number of new features that up its social factor.

Business social-networking site LinkedIn unveiled a redesigned homepage with a number of updates on Wednesday night. It's the latest step in an ongoing initiative to prove that LinkedIn is more than a glorified address book by encouraging more professional interaction among users.

A look at the new LinkedIn. LinkedIn

The newly revamped home page, with its focus on a left sidebar and tabs along the top of the window, certainly echoes of the wildly popular but far less business-centric Facebook.

New updates to the site include "status" messages to indicate current activity, similar to Facebook's, and a number of new personalized "modules" on the home page to present a user with information gathered from their networks of contacts. There's an "Answers" module to show what questions have been asked recently by your contacts, a "People" module to offer potential new contacts (your contacts' contacts, basically), and a "Jobs" module to show what opportunities are available in your network.

Additionally, LinkedIn will continue rolling out its "LinkedIn News" feature, which displays headlines from around the Web that pertain directly to a user's company and industry, and the company continues to move forward with its developer platform.

All of it takes a cue from Facebook, which popularized the notion that a social network's homepage ought to provide personalized updates about one's network of friends or colleagues. Once considered intrusive, the notion of "news feeds" has now become a staple of the social Web.

LinkedIn has a chic poster boy to go along with its latest updates: outgoing Microsoft Chairman and philanthropic icon Bill Gates, who publicly said he was no longer using Facebook because of the number of friend requests that flood his inbox (remember, Microsoft has a $240 million investment in Facebook) and then made a high-profile debut on LinkedIn earlier this week.

LinkedIn's status messages are like Facebook's, but with a dose of professionalism. LinkedIn

But while these new updates might make LinkedIn a bit more social, it isn't getting any less businesslike. As with many other LinkedIn features, there are restrictions in place. You can only set your status to "(Your name) is working on...," "will be traveling to," "is looking for advice on," "is looking for a job," or "is reading." Privacy controls can be tweaked to set status messages to public, visible only to contacts, or visible only to second- and third-degree contacts of contacts.

LinkedIn intends these status messages to be productive, not whimsical. "The status feature will provide another effective way to engage and tap into the knowledge of your network," Adam Nash, LinkedIn's senior director of product, said in a statement. "For example, you might let your network know when you're looking for advice or needing to hire someone, or when you're planning a business trip or attending a conference."

So much for telling all your LinkedIn contacts that you can't wait to see the next episode of Lost.