Hoover's this week announced the official launch of its business networking tool, Hoover's Connect. At the same, Hoover's announced that it will acquire Visible Path, the company that run the Hoover's Connect service. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Hoover's Connect had been available for the past year in a Beta version on the company's free site. This release now gives Hoover's subscribers access to the networking service that enables users to connect to someone new through an individual already in their network and better equipped to make an introduction.

Subscribers can access Hoover's Connect when they visit a web page containing a company record. When the click the "Connect" button on that page, referral paths appear that highlight the strongest path within that particular subscriber's network. Users can actively build the network by inviting people to join or passively with an Outlook plug-in that applies social networking algorithms to automatically rate relationship strength.

According to Hoover's this service differs from other professional networking tools because it can identify the strongest relationships by evaluating users' Outlook systems (e-mail and calendars). Hoover's Connect then assesses the strengths and rates them. Privacy settings prevent identities from being revealed if individuals want to remain anonyomous.

Hoover's Connect seemed like a good idea when it launched in Beta a year ago and it still seems like a good idea now. Social networking continues to be a popular information sharing concept, so it was really a natural next step for Hoover's. Customers already rely on Hoover's to provide them with the business information (about companies and individuals) they need to complete their work-related tasks. It makes complete sense to complement that main service with one that enables subscribers to truly complete their tasks--by connecting them to individuals they want to do business with.

Entering the market after such established networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn really isn't a factor here. If anything, those sites paved the way for social networking and helped demonstrate its value to the business community. Most of Hoover's users have probably already used the features of such networking services already, so getting used to Hoover's Connect should be an easy adjustment. Getting them to try it should also be a bit easier thanks to the privacy safeguards Hoover's has installed. It will be surprising if Hoover's Connect is anything but a success.