by Oliver Ryan

In the future, everyone will likely maintain two online profiles. So said LinkedIn CEO Dan Nye in an extended lunchtime interview last week here in Fortune’s conference room/pool hall. We had opened the conversation with THE question of the moment: in a Facebook world, what’s the future for LinkedIn — or for that matter any other “vertical” social network?

Stealing some of his material from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman on the matter, Nye said people will build one profile for their personal life and another for their professional life. The argument, self serving as it is, makes a certain amount of sense. Not good to have a prospective employer stumble on to those photos of you freshman year in Delta Kappa Epsilon.

After the inevitable social net shakeout, Nye says, Facebook and MySpace will remain standing and will compete to supply an outlet for personal self-expression and community. Meanwhile, in the Nye/Hoffman scenario, LinkedIn will dominate the business of business networking — serving as a “productivity tool,” used for professional reference checking, recruiting, and to get expert advice.

Granted, LinkedIn’s current growth does look promising. With upwards of 11 million members already signed up, the site is now adding 180,000 new members each week, and fully half of these live outside the United States. Thus, Nye professes little fear of would be competitors like the European front-runner Xing.com. “We are clearly going to win the English speaking world and adjacent economies,” he said. “And that already is pretty meaningful.” In Silicon Valley, he added, “LinkedIn is now so prevalent that you sort of have to join it.”

Fair enough - the company has got lift. But the dual profile argument only goes so far. It’s not entirely clear why smart use of privacy controls and tabbed pages couldn’t render Facebook perfectly adquate for professional use. If there is a winner-takes-all dynamic in social networking, why would it stop so conveniently at the professional-personal boundary? And if LinkedIn is growing fast, its growth remains practically sluggish compared to Facebook’s rate of 150,000 new members each day.

Wouldn’t it at least be smart, then, for LinkedIn to deploy itself as an application on Facebook, given Facebook’s new open API strategy? Quite possibly, said Nye who pointed out that Hoffman was an early investor in Facebook, and that Facebook backer Peter Thiel also has money in LinkedIn. “We know each other well,” said Nye. “We like each other.”

Bottom line: the jury is still divided on how much consolidation to expect in social networks, but it will be interesting to see how all these real world social networks hold up when their virtual counterparts begin to merge, or falter….

source: the browser