Hearst is headed to Silicon Valley with new BranchOut acquisition

After a long, tumultuous fight, LinkedIn-meets-Facebook application BranchOut is shutting down. Bits and pieces of the company — namely its founder Rick Marini and its product, user interface, and programming teams — are being acquired by Hearst Publishing. The New York media giant is trying to tap into some Silicon Valley fervor with the endeavor.

Marini will be leading Hearst’s new digital project development group, which will build mobile apps to connect Hearst brands to readers in new ways. In its press release announcing the news, Hearst CTO Philip Wiser explained, “We have made solid progress in the past several years growing our digital product portfolio and now intend to supercharge our mobile efforts.”

It’s a soft-ish landing for the BranchOut team, which has been struggling for some time. The application rose to prominence off the back of Facebook, gaining 25 million users in less than two years initially with its career networking service. But as easily as Facebook giveth, it taketh away. The social platform adjusted its privacy setting and BranchOut’s marketing scheme — based on spammy wall posts — stopped working so well.

BranchOut has been trying to figure out its next steps ever since. It introduced an enterprise messaging app called Talk.co, a service Marini swore to me wasn’t a pivot. But Talk.co was dwarfed by other work chatting applications, particularly the rising star Slack, and BranchOut couldn’t compete.

Hearst doesn’t need BranchOut’s users or data, it needs its employees’ expertise: people steeped in the Silicon Valley way of life with the coding skills to match. Although Hearst hasn’t released any more information on the project, it seems like an attempt to try to wrest some control back from the social media and search engine gods who can raise or plummet news traffic with the merest shift of an algorithm. In the press release, Hearst CEO Steven Swartz said, “Our overall goal is to capture the attention of users with a new wave of engaging mobile apps and services.”

The new digital project development group will be based in San Francisco according to MediaPost.