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Confidentiality is the core of Forbes.com networking site

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Where social networks such as MySpace and Facebook are designed to showcase their users’ individuality, Forbes.com’s AnswerNetwork has been carefully designed to preserve users’ anonymity.

Launched May 6, AnswerNetwork facilitates the one-on-one exchange of information between business executives who have rated themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 as proficient in one or more subjects, from health and real estate to sports and travel. Cisco Systems is the sole sponsor of AnswerNetwork.

Mike Smith, senior VP-general manager, operations for Forbes.com, said AnswerNetwork operates from a different paradigm than the typical social network.

“With other social networks, I can search for people by name and learn a lot about them from reading their profile,” he said. In AnswerNetwork, by contrast, “information about our participants is kept from public view. When members ask a question, they are connected with one person who agrees to answer it based on his or her personal expertise. At that point, it becomes a one-on-one exchange.”

Each member of the AnswerNetwork must choose a user name at the time of registration. This will be the only identification other members will see, unless, during one of the one-on-one communications arranged by the system, the two participants mutually agree to share more details about themselves.

“Our plan for the AnswerNetwork is to provide a trusted environment where business leaders can collaborate by asking and answering questions about myriad topics of interest,” Smith said.

AnswerNetwork has its own system of points or currency, called pohns, that are spent and earned by asking and answering questions, respectively. Members receive 250 pohns when they join. When they submit a question, members decide how many pohns they will offer a respondent. Questioners also choose the level of experience they require and the urgency of the request.

Smith declined to say how many people he expects to join and participate in AnswerNetwork, but he did say: “New member signups and usage have been impressive and better than initially forecast during the initial rollout phase.”

The AnswerNetwork will be promoted on all Forbes interactive properties, which collectively reach 27 million unique monthly users, and in e-mail newsletters. Direct e-mail invitations will be sent to people who have opted to receive such messages, Smith said.

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