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Professional social networks that take on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the leader in professional social networking, but that doesn't mean it's the only player in the market. Here are some alternative sites for the professional.

You might be using LinkedIn to stay connected with your business contacts, but there are alternatives on the Web that will help you network and enjoy some extra features while you're at it. Whether you want to hang out at some professional parties or you're more interested in sharing best practices, there are some really neat business-centric social networks on the Web you'll want to visit.

Go pro with these social networks

Focus If you're looking for answers to important business decisions, Focus is the social network for you.

After signing up for Focus, you can immediately start researching topics that have some relevance to your business. From finance to customer service, the site is filled with professionals both asking and answering questions on topics that impact business. To push its social element, Focus allows you to write a blog, connect with others in groups, or simply post comments to discussion boards. If you're looking to learn more about your industry and you want peers to help you do it, Focus is for you.

Focus will give you some insight on important business topics. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Netparty If you're a young professional, networking is one of the most important elements of your career. If you don't know colleagues, you might lose a competitive advantage over others vying for the same job. That's where Netparty comes in.

Netparty's goal is to connect young professionals in a party atmosphere. The site arranges networking events for young professionals in several cities across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and even South America. It sets up parties at different places around the city you live in, charges an admission fee, and even gives you directions on getting there. From the site, you can buy tickets and get on the V.I.P. list, so you don't need to wait in line. It's a great service. More young professionals should be using it.

Netparty connects young professionals in local hot spots. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Plaxo Although Plaxo isn't designed specifically for business professionals, the social site's My Career option is a fine LinkedIn alternative.

Plaxo's My Career feature allows you to fill out your professional history. You can input your past and current employers, where you went to college, and more. Once that information is populated, Plaxo helps you find colleagues at all those firms, as well as old classmates. It's similar to LinkedIn, but since there aren't as many users, you won't find as many colleagues. Regardless, you can communicate with those people through direct messages or by joining groups. It's not the best social career service, but Plaxo's My Career isn't bad either.

Plaxo's My Career page might help you in your professional networking. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Ryze Ryze is a social network that helps you communicate with others in your industry.

After you sign up for Ryze, you'll be able to create a full profile that includes your company's address, where you live, and more. After that, you need to decide if you want to use the Basic, free version of Ryze or paid versions that cost $10 or $20 per month for a Gold or Platinum membership, respectively. The paid versions allow you to create your own groups on the site.

If you don't want to create your own, Ryze gives you the option to join groups. You can also communicate with others via message boards and direct messages. The site's events page is a great way to network with other professionals. That said, the site is poorly designed and its paid memberships do detract from the service.

Ryze has a slew of great events. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Talkbiznow Talkbiznow is a fine social network that will give you the chance to discuss important topics with colleagues in a social setting.

After you sign up for Talkbiznow, I think you'll be impressed by the site's profile-creation tool. From adding a simple biography to populating your profile with a career history and contacts, your colleagues should be happy with what they find.

Perhaps the best feature Talkbiznow offers is its Services pane, which lists several options for you to enhance your Talkbiznow standing. You can host a Webinar, upload documents to your profile, hold a video conference call, or manage your calendar. Those four features make Talkbiznow a unique service that stands apart from some of its competition. With a bigger community, Talkbiznow could easily compete with LinkedIn.

Talkbiznow is the social network for those who want more than connections. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Xing Xing is a professional social network that competes well against LinkedIn.

After you sign up for Xing, you'll find that it's big on features. You can fill out your profile with in-depth information about yourself. Once complete, you can start connecting with colleagues at companies all over the world. You can send them messages, meet up with them at events that can be publicized on the Xing site, or just search for them.

Although there are still some U.S.-based members, there are far more people from Europe and Asia on the site. That might discourage some from joining, since the majority of their U.S.-based colleagues are on other social networks, but if you're doing business internationally, Xing is the social network for you.

Xing is the place to go if you're running an international business. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My top 3

1. Netparty: Business is about who you know just as much as what you know. Netparty helps you meet other important people.

2. Talkbiznow: With so many great features, Talkbiznow is worth checking out.

3. Focus: Being a professional is about continuing to learn. Focus helps you in that endeavor.