3121: Capitol Hill gets its own social network

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LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace, meet 3121.

If the new social network's name (it's the extension for the Capitol switchboard) seems a little "inside the beltway," that's because that's the point. Billed by parent company National Journal Group as "the first professional networking tool designed exclusively for congressional members and staff," 3121 aims to help Capitol Hill staffers stay connected.

Mashable got a peek of the site in its private beta state – Congressional employees, head here to sign up – and reports that the site will function primarily as a secure online directory for Hill staffers:

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3121 will be pre-populated with basic biographical and job information for many employees (think aides, advisors, policy directors, etc), but then let users claim their profile and keep it updated. That information will be searchable, and users will be able to connect with each other to establish a network on the site. Based on your connections, 3121 will also recommend other members you should connect with by looking at things like mutual friendships....

The site was borne out of research conducted by National Journal in 2007, which showed that "Washington insiders" get 126 emails a day, 75 percent carry a mobile device such as a BlackBerry, and 92 percent read "inside-the-Beltway" magazines. Partnering in bringing 3121 to the Hill are Jive Software, New Media Strategies, and JESS3.

But is 3121 necessary? One Congressional staffer, contacted by the Monitor, acknowledged the information overload that comes along with work on the Hill, but wondered if the site wasn't just another way to put too much information on the Web – and risk getting fired. And, in an email, he pointed to a similar service already in use on the Hill. "DemCom," a tool that facilitates better intra-office and -committee coordination, removes the strain that forwarded emails put on the House email system by hosting documents in the cloud. And it uses the House's Active Directory infrastructure for access control, keeping things secure. One problem: It's only for Democrats.

Why offer a networking site if you're National Journal? The Washington Examiner did some digging and found that though the network will be closed to everyone but Hill staffers, there is one other way in: advertising. "Lobbyists and others seeking to influence Congress will be able to buy their way onto the site via advocacy advertising," the Examiner's J.P. Freire writes. The pricetag for "Premiere Promotional" sponsor? $295,000.

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