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LinkedIn revamps timeline with Trending Storylines: curated, algorithmic news clusters

Aakash Ghosh 0

LinkedIn — the social network for professionals that’s now a part of Microsoft — has long been working on ways to get its 465 million users to stay on the site longer and use it for more than simply looking for jobs and quick networking exchanges — part of its bigger advertising and audience play — and today comes the latest development on that front.

The company is debuting a new feature called Trending Storylines — personalised news clusters based around topics of the moment, composed of content from outside LinkedIn’s walled garden coupled with related writing published on LinkedIn itself. Trending Storylines — which you access by way of the “Trending” tab on mobile, or a via a tab on the top right hand side of the desktop site — will launch in the U.S. in English-only at first, with an initial focus on stories in technology, finance and healthcare (more regions and topics to come down the line, product manager Tomer Cohen tells me).

Here are some screenshots of how Trending Storylines looks across both mobile and desktop, along with a look at what the alerts will look like on your phone if you opt in for push notifications from LinkedIn. A deeper dive into the product is below:

 Curated by a team of 24 editors, Trending Storylines also uses machine learning and other algorithms to tweak each cluster for specific users, based on who is in your network, what they may be writing, and what you have read or commented on in the past on LinkedIn. In other words, if two of you and I all look at the same Trending Storyline about, say, the latest personnel departure at Uber, the three of us are likely to see different things.

This is not LinkedIn’s first attempt at rejigging its timelines and infusing them with more news as a route to deeper engagement on the platform.

The company earlier this year debuted a completely revamped version of its desktop website that gave a new look for people’s home pages and put more of the content published on and shared on LinkedIn front and center. The timeline specifically was revamped with breaking news alerts and a whole set of actions alongside them: supplemental links to learn more; people on LinkedIn who are connected to you and relevant to the story; and links to relevant Influencer posts.

But LinkedIn’s efforts go back even further: in 2013, LinkedIn acquired Pulse, the app that aggregates and sorted interesting news for its users. LinkedIn subsequently incorporated the startup’s tech both into its main app, and made updates to the standalone app that brought it much closer to LinkedIn’s content.

I actually think that Trending Storylines appears to provide an experience that is very similar to what Pulse does, which might beg the question of what LinkedIn plans to do with that app down the line. Notably, Pulse’s iOS app hasn’t been updated in over a year; and the Android version, which has had no more than 1 million downloads (recall LinkedIn has 460 million+ users), last had an update in July.

“Yes, Pulse is staying a standalone app,” Dan Roth, LinkedIn’s editor in chief, tells me. “When we think about how to bring quality experiences to professionals, sometimes that means going deep and giving them a standalone app to deliver what they need — sometimes it means adding to an existing experience.”

There is also the push that LinkedIn itself has been making to push its own credibility as a publisher.

 Dan Roth, the company’s editor in chief, told me that currently there are around 160,000 posts written each week on LinkedIn with the total number of views in the region of “tens of thousands per post” (presumably for the most popular among them). Pushing another route to getting some of that content read even more through Trending Storylines will provide more incentive for those publishing to continue doing so.

What’s interesting to me is the shift that LinkedIn has been making into what kind of content is populating LinkedIn. In the early days, it felt like the majority of LinkedIn’s efforts were focused mainly around what you might generally think of as enterprise self-help: posts from (often successful or high profile) business people about running businesses and leadership.

Over time, LinkedIn has shifted that quite a lot to emphasize more need-to-know information and updates to help you start or throughout your day. “We compete with everyone and everything” for your attention, noted Roth. “You could be spending your time reading the WSJ and Twitter, or updating your Bitmoji, and we’re trying to provide useful information for to fill that time.”

The balance between filling five minutes, and hopefully tipping that into more than five minutes, is also an area that LinkedIn is playing around with a lot here.

In addition to a cluster of news around a specific topic,  you have hashtags and topic buttons to explore certain angles further (for example: a Storyline about Airbnb and a possible IPO might feature buttons about IPOs, collaborative economy startups, and travel startups). This is also in addition to LinkedIn suggesting completely different but related storylines at the bottom of each Trending Storyline cluster.

In an interview with product manager Tomer Cohen, I remarked on how it looked like LinkedIn was building rabbit holes and helping you go down them, and fittingly he told me that the internal name for Trending Storylines while it was being developed was “Project Wonderland.”

The new Trending Storylines feature comes in the same week that LinkedIn launched an enhanced Sales Navigator tier for enterprises, pushing another aspect of its business that focused on social sales and how LinkedIn the B2B product is inching further into the world of CRM.

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