Meeting people is easy, in business: Venture Hacks' social network, LinkedIn's company pages

LinkedIn wants to be the center of business networking and data, but can it do everything, or will competing startups carve out their own niches? Latest example: LinkedIn is introducing new pages (LinkedIn’s own, left) that detail information about companies, partially by aggregating information about its users. Meanwhile, for the fund-raising focused, there’s a new sort of investment social network created by San Francisco-based Venture Hacks.

Venture Hacks, formerly a blog comprised of veteran entrepreneurs and investors, that offers advice to startups, takes a proactive stance in connecting its audience. It offers a social network where people can “subscribe” to each other, somewhat like friending somebody on a social network or following them on messaging service Twitter, or subscribing to them on a social news aggregator like Friendfeed. Then, you can see who the people you subscribe to are subscribing to. People can also recommend each other. It’s all reminiscent of LinkedIn, but with more streamlined features. Each person can provide a profile with employee history and other information, as well as their email addresses so they can contact each other directly. The idea is that potential investors can watch which one of the people they subscribe to is recommending an entrepreneur — an entrepreneur working at a company that the investor might want to put money into.

Since LinkedIn is already a way for business people to stay in contact, the two companies are in some sense competitors. But LinkedIn is moving in many directions, coming out with a new service — or the promise of a service — every two weeks or so. These company pages, its latest release, is based on using data from LinkedIn as well as information provided by partner companies. It lists the executives of a company, based on what it knows from its own data, along with new hires, total number of employees, worldwide locations of employees, and other information.

At least it sort of does. LinkedIn doesn’t create its own descriptions of companies, it links to partners like BusinessWeek, which provides its own profiles of some companies to users — much like Techcrunch’s Crunchbase creates its own profiles of companies. LinkedIn also links to Capital IQ, a company that provides more data on companies. For public companies, LinkedIn, also provides annual revenue numbers and other information of interest to investors (and journalists). Of course, Business Week doesn’t profile as many companies as its company-profiling competitors — to be clear, these services are only partial competitors.

vh1032008.pngVenture Hacks, meanwhile, is trying to focus on social connections that people have made offline. It has made a point of starting with a very well-known pool of investors and well-known entrepreneurs. While the service is very much a work in progress, the simplicity of the connections — and the fact that you’re connecting with influential people — makes this a promising service. I’m starting to use it now (note: It’s currently in private beta). What’s more, many small angel investors don’t have the capacity to vet the number of potential deals that a venture firm might see, so this might level the playing field for the many types of investors out there. It also encourages a community, through a feed of the latest subscriptions and other information happening across the site (left): Like Facebook news feed or Friendfeed, Venture Hacks’ public feed helps you follow people you might be interested in.

On the other end, for Venture Hacks, there’s already TheFunded, which lets entrepreneurs post anonymous reviews of venture firms, although TheFunded is not especially popular with the investment community. Venture Hacks is more favorable to investors — for example, you can privately track the site activities of people in a company.

Meanwhile, while Venture Hacks also competes with LinkedIn’s core service, LinkedIn’s new company service competes against company profiling site Crunchbase, along with startup-rating sites like Killer Startups.

In fact, the question is how different these various services will remain. Venture Hacks could be more valuable if it had more information about companies, so maybe it will begin offering a feature where it display news stories about a company from around the web?. In turn, startup company profiling services could use more social networking features to help interested parties connect — Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks offer ways of connecting their data with third party services like these.

In the meantime, LinkedIn seems to have a lot of the pieces — individual connections, company profiles, data services — but will people use it in place of these other services? It’s not clear.

Chris Morrison contributed to this article.

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