What big-time Internet social-media company is creating a valuable news site? I’m not talking about Google, or Facebook, or Twitter, though of course they are among major players in the news sphere these days.
I’m talking here about a company you won’t typically connect to news: LinkedIn. When it comes to news about business, technology and economic issues I follow, LinkedIn Today is becoming a useful source of information.
Useful, but not nearly what it should be on a site that could just about own aggregated business news. And later today, when I moderate a social-media-in-journalism panel at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas, I’m looking forward to hearing one of the site’s editors, Chip Cutter, describe his view of the service’s future. (Update: He spent more time, as a good panelist should, on broader issues than just his own company’s site.)
When I’m signed in to LinkedIn and select the LinkedIn Today menu tab, I get a nicely arranged aggregation, shown on this page. It’s compiled from topics I’ve designated and from people in my LinkedIn “connections” list — more than 500 people with whom I have some kind of business connection. It goes beyond that, including links from the industry I’m interested in and even from outside that industry.
LinkedIn’s aggregation algorithm doesn’t strike me as particularly great; in many ways Google’s produces (subjectively) better results. But when I combine it (rather, when LinkedIn combines it) with the choices made by the people to whom I’m connected by reputation or personal knowledge, plus the shares of others who care about the topic, something new happens. I get much better results.
LinkedIn Today is only the latest example of what I’ve been wanting for years — and wrote about most recently in my book, Mediactive — the notion that combining human and machine intelligence will get us closer to the kind of news aggregation that truly serves our needs. We’ve seen progress with blogs, Twitter (one of my most essential news feeds in a variety of areas), Google+, Facebook and other services.
What makes LinkedIn so intriguing is the way it leverages business contacts, not just social ones. These folks are connections whom I’ve chosen because I trust them in some way, not as friends (though some are) but as people in another kind of circle that is about professional life. And others in the same industry will be more likely than not to be noting interesting or at least relevant news.
I’m not especially interested in what they think, for the most part, about topics outside the ones I’m choosing. Their likes and dislikes in, say, film won’t be in my feed, because I want to keep this site’s news content strictly organized by the professional part of my existence.
Like its competition, LinkedIn Today is way, way short of what it could be. Users need to be able to make much more granular choices about sources (including people) and topics (and more), and user-interface customization features are at best crude in this early version.
In general, the product feels and operates like a side project, not a truly core feature. If I were running the company, I’d move it higher on the list of things that are strategic as opposed to tactical. I’m told that news is strategic, but I don’t see remotely convincing evidence.
It also seems obvious Google and Facebook are going to try to capture the aggregation-recommendation space — and they have at least as much ability to do so, if not more, when it comes to technical talent and user bases. Google, in particular, needs to figure out how to combine Google+ with Google News ((and other parts of the empire). Facebook’s news feeds send huge amounts of traffic to linked items, but in my experience (before I closed my FB account) the value of those links to me was low at best.
What neither Google nor Facebook can boast — yet — is the business-oriented membership base that LinkedIn has made its unique selling proposition. Again, it’s essential who makes the recommendations, along with who’s doing the programming in the cloud, and that’s why LinkedIn still has every chance of being preeminent in business/economic news aggregation if not more.
Bottom lines: Aggregation and curation — sorting the good from the bad, the useful from the useless — are still in their early days. But LinkedIn Today is an extremely interesting step forward.