Inside Facebook reports on the discovery of a couple of new functions in Facebook Platform's API (the set of hooks provided by Facebook for third-party developers building their own applications) which hint at additional features, which could put Facebook in much more direct competition with professional networks such as LinkedIn, as well as eat away at the unique selling point of social networks like Multiply, which emphasize user privacy and access controls for a user's different social groups.
The new functions: friends.getLists and friends.getListsMembers, suggests that Facebook may be about to roll out the ability for users to group their Facebook friends into categories such as 'professional', 'family', 'close friends' etc., from which different levels of profile access could be applied. The next logical step would then be to add some of the functionality of a dedicated professional social networking site (LinkedIn, for example) in a way that would allow for a user's social and professional online presence to be kept separate, but both hosted and managed within Facebook.
From Inside Facebook:
This could dramatically simplify privacy controls. Right now, users manage privacy settings per-feature or by managing their Limited Profile list. The addition of Friend Lists means one can now much more flexibly and powerfully manage privacy settings per List. Work friends see one portion of your profile, personal friends see another, best friends see yet another.
This will be a welcome change for everyone whose LinkedIn networks have migrated to Facebook. Consequently, this could mean accelerated LinkedIn attrition: per-Friend-List privacy settings could substantially decrease the need of many to actively maintain their LinkedIn accounts as well.
As I've mentioned in a previous post ('LinkedIn vs Facebook: room for both?') my social network on Facebook already mirrors (and surpasses) my professional network on LinkedIn. All that is required to negate much of the need to ever log-in to LinkedIn again is the option to group Facebook "friends" into defined categories, with different levels of access and some specific professional networking features. With regards to the latter, many third-party Facebook apps already exist which add features designed to support professional networking or mimic key LinkedIn features such as recruitment, Q&A, resumes etc. In fact, LinkedIn itself launched a Facebook app to enable company job openings to be advertised through Facebook (although, users have requested much greater integration between the two networks).
If Facebook does add functionality to make it easy for users to add a degree of separation between their social and professional networks, as well as a public-facing 'resume' type page (which can be viewed without needing to be logged-in), then I find it hard to see how LinkedIn etc. will stay relevant.
Watch this space.