You’d think internet companies would want to stay far, far away from “trending” news, given one Menlo Park-based social giant’s unfortunate history. But LinkedIn has decided to try. The Microsoft-owned company doesn’t criticize Facebook directly. But its pitch for its new feature clearly telegraphs that it intends to avoid the pitfalls into which Facebook stumbled.
LinkedIn’s Trending Storylines will start appearing in the US today and to international users soon after. A new “trending” tab will appear on mobile homescreens and on the top right-hand side of the LinkedIn homepage. As befits a social network that specializes in professional connections, the links will focus on business news—technology, health care, and finance to start.
Facebook’s troubles really began after disgruntled contractors tasked with picking trending stories started leaking to the press. LinkedIn says a team of some two dozen editors—nearly all former business journalists from reputable outlets such as Reuters and the Wall Street Journal—will handpick the first few stories that appear in trending feeds. As more people start to discuss the news, LinkedIn’s algorithms start to weigh in, show users individualized links based on their connections, who they follow, and what links seem to be gaining traction.
More than just the process, however, LinkedIn editor-in-chief (and former WIRED staffer) Dan Roth argues the reasons people come to the site ensure its trending stories won’t get bogged down by hyperpartisan news or hoaxes. “What you write and what you share is seen by your boss and by your employees, by your future boss,” Roth says. “People tend to be respectful and thoughtful about what they’re sharing.”
LinkedIn has dabbled in trending news in the past. An early effort called LinkedIn Today used algorithmic signals to scan for most-shared headlines across the network and matched them to relevant professions. In 2012, the company started the LinkedIn Influencers program where high-profile professionals could publish posts directly on the social network.
Trending Storylines works to bring together all related content into one coherent grouping. A team of news editors starts zeroes in on a topic or developing story and pins a “must-read” at the top. Then they may, say, solicit editorials from important players—even Snap CEO Evan Spiegel himself. As more related stories roll in, LinkedIn’s algorithms can identify highly cited characters in the story (investors, Snap’s C-level execs), and let users decide whether they would like to follow these business figures. The tab will also suggest similar storylines: say other IPOs or messaging apps.
In designing the feature, Roth says the team took pains to make sure it considered how to get users outside of their filter bubbles. But he also argues that LinkedIn successfully regulates itself when it comes to the kind of partisanship that plagues other social networks. “People say, ‘This is not where I want to hear about politics. It’s where I want to hear about professional conversations,” Roth says. “It’s really wild to watch a self-policing network.” What would be really wild: a trending stories list that doesn’t pump fake news or lead to calls for a congressional investigation.