BranchOut, the Facebook-friendly professional network that aspires to kill LinkedIn, is branching out itself. It's pushing its pages out to their own Google-friendly URLs and giving users their own vanity domains.
If you'd like to grab your branchout name, the company has made an early reservation system available to the first 500 people who e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Send a note there and they'll send you back instructions to claim your URL, presumably something nice you can put on your resume, like branchout.com/JoeBob
I like BranchOut's positioning. It's setting itself up as the jobs network for everyone, not just for the professional class that's already on LinkedIn. CEO Rick Marini is going after classes of workers, like soldiers returning from deployment and students new to the job market, who aren't on LinkedIn and who are not about to be. Their world is Facebook. And as work and professional lives are merging, Marini wants to bring the professional network to them, instead of seeing them go elsewhere to get it, where they'll have to rebuild their connections.
"They're all playing FarmVille," Marini says of people starting job searches. He's just giving them a job network where they're already hanging out. It's priced right for these users, too: free.
BranchOut is currently much more than a personal "about" page. It has job listings, endorsements, and other professional functions. But in the small resume page space, it already has competitors, like About.me (acquired by AOL), and the startup Zerply, which according to Zerply CEO Christofer Karltorp is converging on the same space as BranchOut. It's just starting with the about page as its "minimum viable product."
Both BranchOut and Zerply reflect more modern sensibilities than LinkedIn, especially when it comes to ease of connecting to people. One assumes that if you put a profile up on these services, you want to be contacted, and neither service puts a pay wall between you and people who might want to contact you. "Paying to connect makes no sense in the Web generation," says Karltop.
Paying for resume spiffs like custom themes, though, is another story. Expect these services to get freemium features such as that.
The whole professional network game is a giant SEO play, which is a big reason that all of these sites, including LinkedIn, push users to endorse their friends. The more the network of people on a service is linking to one other, the more Google juice the service has. And the more findable people are on these services, the more they become--their CEOs hope--indispensable parts of our online, professional images.