The WSJ and Bloomberg are launching social networks — good luck with that

Gigaom

According to a recent investor presentation by Wall Street Journal publisher and Dow Jones CEO Lex Fenwick, the News Corp. entity is working on a new social network called WSJ Profile that would allow its readers to “participate in the sharing economy.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg appears to be relaunching a social network originally developed by BusinessWeek and now called Current, with a view towards doing the same thing. The only thing wrong with these ambitious plans, of course, is that LinkedIn and Twitter are pretty much already doing that.

In his slideshow for investors, which was noticed first by the Times of London, the Wall Street Journal publisher showed a mockup of a profile page for a social network that would connect readers of the newspaper and allow them to share personal messages, find other readers with similar interests and so on. The page includes sections for a short bio or “about me,” work experience, industry affiliations, awards and several other categories.

Do WSJ readers want their own network?

Setting up this kind of network for readers to connect with each other makes perfect sense — or at least it would have five or six years ago, before LinkedIn and Facebook and other networks had become as dominant as they are now. But what the WSJ is describing looks and sounds virtually identical to LinkedIn — except that LinkedIn allows users to connect with thousands of different people, regardless of whether they read the Wall Street Journal or not.

Is being a WSJ reader enough of a draw to make such a network succeed? I’m doubtful, but it looks like the newspaper is going to give it a shot anyway. Presumably, it will then use the data that users upload or share to target advertising and other promotional efforts (although advertisers might also be more interested in LinkedIn). It’s worth noting that Fenwick didn’t mention any competitive threats from LinkedIn or anyone else in his presentation.

Bloomberg is also feeling the pressure

Meanwhile, Bloomberg appears to be trying to jump-start a social network of some kind called Current — although all there is right now is a sign-up page and a somewhat uninspiring Twitter account that hasn’t posted anything since October. After doing some digging around, it looks to me like Current could be a re-branded or revamped version of BusinessWeek‘s Business Exchange or BWBX, which the magazine launched several years ago with the aim of creating an exclusive network for its readers, without much success.

Bloomberg’s core business is also clearly threatened by both LinkedIn and Twitter. Although the wire service has made the bulk of its multibillion-dollar revenues from selling its proprietary terminals, one crucial factor in the value of those terminals is the way they allow traders, brokers and other financial professionals to connect with each other, send instant messages and so on. Real-time market data is also important, obviously, but those connections are gold.

If you want to connect with someone in real-time about a topic, Twitter also has a massive network that allows you to do that, and it is far broader than Bloomberg’s — although that broadness could be seen as a disadvantage by some. There’s even a kind of finance-only version of Twitter called StockTwits (see disclosure below) that has become very popular with traders and investors. And LinkedIn also has a vast user base of corporate professionals, with many of the same features that a Bloomberg social network theoretically might offer.

So the question for both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg is: Why would readers or users come to your network instead of using those other ones? What are you offering that is superior, apart from the reflected glory of your brand name, that could overcome their established network effects? If you don’t have a strong answer to those questions, then you will almost certainly fail.

Disclosure: StockTwits is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, GigaOM. Om Malik, founder of GigaOM, is also a venture partner at True.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Shutterstock / Thomas Pajot




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