By Lindsay Blakely
Just how many social networking sites do we really need? At least one more, according to Yahoo. On Monday, it unveiled Kickstart, a sort of LinkedIn for the college set that aims to hook up students and recent grads with alumni and potential employers.
Here's a primer on what Kickstart has to offer.
Target audience: 18-to 24 year-olds
Design: Kickstart is certainly one of the cleanest-looking social networks. Profiles look like resumes. Navigation is easy with a toolbar at the top of the page and boxes on the homepage that immediately notify you of new messages, connection requests and pending actions. If Kickstart is targeting the same audience that gave Facebook its start, and even emulates its minimalist design, it makes clear that the network is all about work, not play. "Uncle Ron may work for IBM, but it doesn't mean you want him writing on your wall or poking your friends," the site declares in a not-so-subtle jab at Facebook.
Features: When you create a profile, the schools, companies and professional organizations you belong to become your networks. Scott Gatz, Yahoo's senior director of advanced products, says that these networks are "meant to be hubs for people to gather around." As such, each organization has a profile page where you can learn more about it and view everyone who works there. For job-seekers, the "Follow this Company" button is a useful tool. Clicking on the button puts the company on your profile and will eventually send you bulletins, event alerts and recruiting information. This could be a goodway to consolidate job-searching efforts and keep important company information all in one place (and out of the black hole that is your spam box). Another important feature is the search box, which currently offers four basic ways to search: by company, person, college or professional organization. Gatz says more refined search capabilities are on the way.
Privacy: Currently, there is no way to limit who can contact you or see your profile and photo, though Gatz said these controls will be coming soon. That will be an important feature once Kickstart lets recruiters on the site.
Verdict: At this point, launching any kind of new social network is a challenge given the competition -- but especially if you're Yahoo (YHOO). The company has been struggling to create a social network that will stick: Its flagship Yahoo 360 blogging/networking platform never really caught on and is shutting down. Kickstart, however, is a step in the right direction. Yahoo has identified a market that it could easily target: college grads who like Facebook but want a way to network professionally.
Kickstart fits into Yahoo's new strategy of developing a social networking "universal profile" that stretches across its various properties. Mash, Yahoo's social network that launched in beta in September, is currently a testing ground for elements that may eventually become part of universal profiles. Kickstart seems like a natural way to integrate with Yahoo's successful HotJobs, Mail, and even Answers. For example, picture posting a question about what it's like to interview at Google (GOOG) and receiving helpful responses on how to prepare from college alumni who work at the search giant.
Despite its lack of social networking success, Yahoo's reach is massive and the fact that it is still one of the largest e-mail providers gives Kickstart, well, a bit of a kickstart. If you already have a Yahoo email, signing up is easy. The challenge will be to attract enough professionals and alumni to make the networking worthwhile for recent grads. Money, it seems, is one way to do it -- Yahoo will give $25,000 to the college with the most members on Kickstart by Dec. 31.