In its latest attempt to build social-networking features into its business, LinkedIn, which has filed to go public, launched a news recommendation service on Thursday called LinkedIn Today that it hopes will function like a specialized Twitter for business networks. Although some believe that it has a chance to be “the Wall Street Journal of social news,” it remains to be seen whether LinkedIn users really want it to become a news aggregator, or whether this is yet another copycat social feature the network is bolting on that few people will ever use.
The idea behind LinkedIn Today is a simple one: The network pulls in Twitter feeds from many of its users who have connected their accounts, and links to websites are also shared in other ways. So the new service compiles theoretically personalized — or at least topic- or industry-focused — lists of relevant links from the people you follow or are connected to through the LinkedIn network, and displays them as a newspaper-style page. You can also see what people in a particular industry are sharing. (LinkedIn also launched some other new features during its call on Thursday, including a network-visualization tool called InMaps and some enhanced search features).
Former LinkedIn staffer and CrossLoop founder Mrinal Desai is enthusiastic about the idea of LinkedIn curating the news for him, because he says it can target headlines and links more effectively based on the connections he has made inside his LinkedIn social graph. But the screenshot that Desai includes in his post provides a perfect example of the flaws in this strategy: The number one most-shared link is about Charlie Sheen and how he got a Guinness World Record for getting to one million Twitter followers.
Is that the kind of crucial business-related news that can only be curated by a business-focused social network? No. It’s the same most-shared link you would find by going to virtually any other aggregator such as Yahoo News. And that’s a potential flaw for LinkedIn’s new service in terms of getting traction with users.
Desai is right about the need for curation that blends human and algorithm in order to help users navigate the tsunami of news that is available online — I’ve written many times about the need for more recommendation systems for news, and about some of the efforts that startups such as News360 and the newly-launched iPad magazine Zite are making in that direction. So it’s not surprising to see LinkedIn getting into this area, and perhaps for some users this might be a useful tool.
I think the biggest reason for the launch of these kinds of services is that most people (in my experience at least) don’t really go to LinkedIn that much. They have a profile there, and they are connected to people for business purposes, and perhaps now and then they respond to a question or make an introduction. But the network doesn’t really have a lot of life to it, in the sense of ongoing social interaction — even though it has 90 million registered users. So the company has added Twitter-style following and Facebook-style sharing, and as many other features as it can to try to get some of the juice that those networks have.
But the bottom line is that for many users, LinkedIn is simply a place where they put their resume and work information, and they never return to it or make use of its features until they are looking for work. News aggregation may be a nice feature to have, but it’s unlikely to solve that particular problem.