BranchOut Offers Better Career Networking on Facebook; Plus, a Q&A with Founder Rick Marini

Apps with a practical focus have had limited success on Facebook, especially when compared to the growth of social gaming on the platform. But BranchOut is looking to change that — it’s a recently-launched Facebook application that wants to help people build their career networks through their real-life friends.

In the article below, we’ll see how the app fits into the existing career networking ecosystem. We’ll also talk with founder and serial entrepreneur Rick Marini about his views on industry topics like Facebook’s viral channels, the next generation of social games, and the opportunity in utilities.

Marini co-founded personality test site Tickle.com in 1999, growing it to become the 18th largest site on the internet before selling it to Monster.com for more than $100 million in 2004. He and his team of 80 worked at Monster.com for three years before he left with six handpicked employees to found SuperFan. The social entertainment hub lets users create content for the site and spend virtual currency to prove they are the biggest fans of their favorite media, celebrities and more. SuperFan uses Facebook for login and viral distribution of activity and also runs a Facebook application in conjunction with the site.

Marini launched BranchOut.com on July 20th, 2010 out of the same office as SuperFan, and came out of a workplace experience. An associate asked him for a sales lead introduction to a company Marini knew one of his Facebook friends worked at, but he couldn’t remember which friend. He realized an app that listed where your friends worked could not only help people find jobs, like the Simply Hired Facebook Connect site, but could be a career networking platform. The seven person company includes five engineers, and is self-funded by Marini, with no sponsors or advertising.

The definition of “friends” now encompasses professional contacts, and Facebook features like friend lists help users manage distribution of information to segments of their increasingly heterogeneous network. Therefore, as Marini tells us, it makes sense to find career contacts through one’s existing friend network, instead of cultivating a specific professional network like LinkedIn. “I’ll accept anyone into my LinkedIn network,” he explains, “but I’m much more motivated to help my [Facebook friends, who are my] support group get a lead, even friends of friends.”

BranchOut – A Facebook Utility

BranchOut’s primary feature is the ability to search for a company and see all of your friends who list that they’ve worked there. Additionally, if one of your friends installs BranchOut, you can see the work histories of their friends as well. To unlock this second degree of network information, users are encouraged to invite friends to join BranchOut through a multi-friend selector which can send wall posts or private messages, or by sharing a unique referral URL.

The BranchOut home page also features a list of the companies at which you have the most contacts; a feed of showing new friend additions, changes to friends’ work info, and people you’ve recently stopped being friends with; and a quick link to edit your own work info. The “Jobs” tab, powered by Indeed, shows any job postings friends have listed in to help out their network or earn referral bonuses. Adding a job posting is free.

BranchOut’s funnest feature is the ability to browse an archive of all your friends and their work histories. You might otherwise never have bothered to check a new friend’s work info to see he used to work at MTV. Currently, there is no public data on BranchOut, whether from Facebook profiles without privacy restrictions, or from Twitter or LinkedIn. Integrations with those services may be included in the future, though.