January 27, 2004 10:20 AM PST

Matcheroo puts social networking to work

Matcheroo on Tuesday joined the growing list of companies offering online social networking services aimed at business users.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup announced the release of its personal networking software for the enterprise market, which claims added privacy and security features over similar services aimed at fostering social interaction. The product features so-called "trusted" networking, which requires authentication and consent verification for individuals attempting to join the online groups.

Social networking is a rapidly expanding Internet segment built on Web sites that encourage users to create personal profiles and lists of friends that people can use to meet one another, post messages and send e-mail. Companies such as Friendster, Emode and even search giant Google have established online networking sites aimed at creating such virtual social clubs, through which members and invited guests can observe and interact with each other.

Correspondingly, a string of companies hoping to lure business users into adopting the online networking model have launched products that promise similar opportunities for the corporate market. Among the players already in the space are LinkedIn, Spoke Software and ZeroDegrees, which offer various arrangements of networking sites and software for professionals seeking to use the Web to increase their range of contacts.

Matcheroo, which started as an online service enabling college students and alumni to meet and correspond with each other, is hoping to cash in on the trend with its enterprise product, designed for use by companies in security-conscious markets such as healthcare and financial services. According to company founder and Chief Executive Sunil Rao--who uses his company's existing services to keep up with classmates and students from his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology--the major difference between Matcheroo's business service and social-oriented online networking environments is control.

"In a social networking setting you may have some level of power as to who becomes involved, but this is mostly based on the behavior of other people in a particular group," said Rao. "What we've created is a system where the (users) have far more control over how their profiles are created, regulated and accessed, for industries where privacy is a serious issue."

One example Rao provides is the healthcare business, where doctors often refer patients to each other with very little in the way of a formal information exchange related to how or why they make such decisions. Rao envisions healthcare professionals using a service such as Matcheroo's enterprise product to foster referral communities, with privacy and security as hallmark differences over social sites, as demanded by the privacy concerns and regulations related to individuals' medical records or physicians' professional histories.

"The key for us is targeting industries where the business, or professional, knows very little about their customers, and strictly defining how networking communications are handled, as chosen by a user or firm," Rao said.

Matcheroo is already engaged in beta tests with business users, but Rao declined to name any of the company's current customers. He said the firm is also going after less privacy-driven users, such as real estate agents and restaurateurs, with the idea that the networking sites can offer benefits to professionals in any number of fields. The company is also developing a mobile application for the software, designed to allow users to download pictures and audio into the system, and it's experimenting with voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology.

 

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