FORTUNE — What do the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have in mind for the business-oriented social networks they are each reportedly launching? Probably something less ambitious than “taking on LinkedIn,” as several accounts would have it.
Lex Fenwick, the Wall Street Journal‘s publisher and the CEO of Dow Jones (NWSA), didn’t even mention LinkedIn during the recent News Corp. investor presentation where he unveiled the social-media product, WSJ Profile (as first reported by the Times of London). That could be because he doesn’t see LinkedIn as a competing product — and it isn’t, really. WSJ Profile seems to be merely a way for readers to set up personal pages on the Journal‘s website, access Dow Jones’s various web offerings (such as Barron’s, Dow Jones Newswires, All Things D’s tech coverage, and Factiva), their own stock portfolios, and to interact with each other. Seemingly part of a larger strategy to unify Dow Jones’s many platforms, it might be a good or a bad idea, but the presence of LinkedIn (or Twitter or Facebook or any other social media product) will have little bearing on whether it succeeds or fails. LinkedIn (LNKD) is mainly a career-focused site aimed at the general public. WSJ Profile seems to be more of a way for Dow Jones to extract more value from its own products.
It’s not surprising that the people who are always quick to champion “openness” and to favor social media over professionally produced media (even though the former relies so heavily on the latter) would see this as “the Journal vs. LinkedIn.” But by all accounts, Fenwick was fairly clear about the company’s intentions: WSJ Profile consolidates all of Dow Jones’s services together and syncs brokerage accounts. It’s designed to increase subscriber “stickiness” (a term left over from the dot-com boom that simply means keeping people on the site longer) and to better target ads based on readers’ interests and behaviors.
Fenwick also mentioned how it helps Journal readers participate in the “sharing economy” (another rather hoary sounding term). That seems like a tertiary consideration, but people who value the Internet’s ability to facilitate online yammering over its ability to disseminate valuable information are, unsurprisingly, more focused on the yammering part.
It’s a little harder to tell what Bloomberg has in mind for Bloomberg Current, now in beta and with only a bare-bones sign-up page, but judging by this page created by its designers, it seems to be something similar: People set up pages for themselves with custom-designed news feeds and the ability to communicate with other users.
Again, this is being described as an also-ran competitor to LinkedIn and Twitter. Mathew Ingram of paidContent went so far as to say that “Bloomberg’s core business is clearly threatened” by those two social networks, and he described Bloomberg Current as a desperate response to that threat. “Although the wire service has made the bulk of its multibillion-dollar revenues from selling its proprietary terminals,” he wrote, “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.”
Well, no, the gold is in the data, and in the ability to manipulate and analyze it, as well as to execute trades (also, the wire service is really just an adjunct to Bloomberg’s main business: its proprietary data service). For Bloomberg customers, data is much more than “also important” — it’s basically the whole thing. Few companies are going to shell out $1,500 a month per user just so employees have the ability to “connect” with people. Email, instant messaging, and message boards have been ubiquitous for nearly two decades, and they’re all free. The Bloomberg terminal’s facilitation of “connectedness” is just one, relatively minor feature of the product. Bloomberg Current, like WSJ Profile, seems like a way to appeal to everyday consumers of business news, whether they have a Bloomberg box or not. This shares some, but not all, of LinkedIn’s features, and even fewer of Twitter’s. It could turn out that the “closedness” of the service will appeal to people who might want to engage with others about business news but are turned off by the awful and annoying behavior that often comes with more “open” social networks like Twitter.
One aim of both of these products might be simply to enable salespeople to use the phrase “social media” when they’re meeting with clients and potential clients. Whether the products will do much for either the Journal or Bloomberg is highly uncertain. Previous attempts by media companies to create their own, social-media-like services haven’t done so well. The best-known of them, the New York Times’ TimesPeople, was launched in 2008 and was killed three years later. But that was a very different endeavor from what the Journal and Bloomberg seem to have in mind. TimesPeople was more akin to social media networks as we know them, with an emphasis on general news. It enabled people to follow each other, comment on stories, and share their favorite items from across all of the Times‘ sections, from sports to international news to reviews of Broadway shows. Bloomberg and the Journal are much more tightly focused on actionable business news.
One other thing the Journal‘s effort should not be compared to: MySpace. News Corp. which owns Dow Jones and the Journal, purchased MySpace and mismanaged nearly all the value out of it before selling it off. But MySpace was a separate entity from all the rest of News Corp.’s products, and it was largely aimed at kids and young adults. It makes no sense to compare MySpace to WSJ Profile just because they’re both vaguely involved with “social media” in some way. But that hasn’t stopped people from making the connection anyway.