In August, The New York Times broke the news about BusinessWeek’s plans to launch Business Exchange. The article described the new product as a mashup between Wikipedia, digg and LinkedIn, with vertical topics suggested by users, links to content from across the web, and an unspecified set of social networking features. The plans represent a “significant loosening of control” for a traditional media property–but not too loose: new topics require editorial approval, and the editors reserve the right to remove objectionable content. Users have profiles which, interestingly, can be imported from their LinkedIn accounts, and they are able to track other users to see what topics they are following. BusinessWeek’s president, Keith Fox, is quoted as saying that the business model will hinge on the ability to deliver highly targeted audiences to advertisers.
So, two months later, how is the Business Exchange doing?
First, I tried to join Business Exchange, also referred to as BX on their site. The registration page promotes a quick-and-easy way to register by linking my LinkedIn account, which sounded like a great idea. Business Exchange promised to show only key profile information, but not my connections or contact information:
But when I clicked on the Link Your Profile button, LinkedIn gave me a slightly scarier take, with warnings that I would be sharing my LinkedIn contacts and network updates with Business Exchange. Since BusinessWeek had merely promised not to display my contacts, but had not explictly said they wouldn’t market to my network, this made me re-think whether I wanted to connect my profile and risk the privacy of all of my hard-earned professional contacts.
Backing my way out for now, slightly disappointed at not being able to experiment with an application similar to what Facebook Connect was promising, I signed up using the form provided on the BX site.
Waiting for my confirmation email to arrive, I started browsing the topics. As of December 7, a total of 812 topics had been created. I typed “Social Media” into the search box, and selected “Social Media Marketing” from the list of 5 existing topics that popped up.
Once on the topic home page, I could see how the site combines networking with content marketing, all in a more adult, professional setting than sites like digg or Technorati. A topic description sets the tone, followed by a list of stories that users have filed under that topic. It’s easy to link to the profile of the person who suggested the topic, and BX provides a list of the “most active users in the topic”, based on their number of contributions. This allows readers to see if they have I found community that is likely to offer a valuable exchange of information based on both they type of content stories being linked to, and based on they profiles of other active members of the community. It has the potential to be a pretty powerful way of building vertical communities around common topics of interest.
By this time, I had received the email with the confirmation link, so I signed in to explore the networking features in more detail. I decided not to spend time adding to my profile in case I changed my mind about connecting with my LinkedIn profile later.
Once you’re signed in, the system will track which stories you’ve viewed. You can also “save” stories, “add” other users that you want to follow and see who is following you.
Some things you can’t do: subscribe to a feed (how do you want me to remember to come back??) and rate stories or comments. Another awkward feature is that when I click on a story, I leave the BX system to read it, and there’s no intuitive way back. This would explain why there does not seem to be a lot of commenting activity going on within BX – why wouldn’t I simply comment to the story directly? The comments on BX itself seem to be mostly from BusinessWeek editors. BusinessWeek editors also seem to be among the most active users for the most active topics. (Today, the most active topic is U.S. Automakers.) Finally, it doesn’t seem as if the system will alert me to new content in my chosen topics of interest, even when I’m on the site. (I’ll update this as I learn more.)
The most engaged users seem to be people who have a vested interest in promoting their expertise in a specific topic area: bloggers, consultants and other professional networkers and content marketers. That said, BX has the potential to be a good platform for finding a like-minded community around a specific topic over time.
Last but not least, the revenue. In all the time I spent on the site today, the only ads served were for Cisco. Congratulations to BusinessWeek for landing a charter advertiser. Now the hard part: finding a way to focus the sales team’s attention to selling more targeted programs at higher prices than on the regular site.