Just about everything we used to do on computers is being reimagined to work better on mobile devices, and there’s no better example than the act of reading — particularly consuming news. What was once the domain of RSS is now something handled in large part by social media, be it Facebook’s News Feed, the massive number of links shared on Twitter every day, the ever-popular Flipboard app, or Apple’s recent big push into news on its iOS devices.
That’s why LinkedIn is releasing a vastly redesigned version of the Pulse news reader app (out today for iOS and Android) that it purchased back in 2013. Akshay Kothari, co-founder (and now LinkedIn project manager) of Pulse, said that in the first three years, the company made tons of content deals to get as many top publishers as it could on board, and it grew to 30 million users in that time — but that wasn’t enough to thrive as users transitioned to mobile. "One missing piece of the puzzle was identity," Kothari says. "We didn’t know who our users were, and that was the key thing to start making smart [content] recommendations."
Pulse has refocused around your professional world
LinkedIn provided that identity layer — it knows where you work, what industry you’re in, who you follow professionally, and so on. The new Pulse app, which launches today, takes advantage of all that data to present you with a vastly simplified interface compared to the Pulse of old. Rather than different publishers being displayed horizontally, with new stories showing up from left to right, Pulse is now one simple stream of content being pulled from a variety of places. You can still follow publishers (as well as individual LinkedIn authors) if you search for them, but the idea is that you can jump right in and find relevant stories without doing any setup.
In addition to showing posts from publishers, the Pulse feed will also show you posts that people in your network share or comment on, stories that mention your company or people you work with, breaking news for industries that are relevant to you, and editorially curated picks by humans who work at LinkedIn. It’s not just all algorithmically generated. "One of the philosophies we’ve had is the 3 C’s," says Kothari. "We serve high quality content, make sure that we are giving you the right context, and we want to give the user control over what they see."
To that end, you can swipe left or right on every story you see — swiping to the right saves it under your profile to read later, while swiping to the left removes it from your feed. Swiping left will help teach Pulse what kinds of stories you want to see and what to avoid going forward. It’ll take time to see how well that works out, but it’s a pretty important part of any news reader at this point — if you’re going to get stories generated for you automatically, users need to be able to clear out the clutter and focus in on what interests them.
Pulse has survived for years, but will this new update keep it relevant?
There’s no doubt that it’s a different app than the one it replaces — it’s no longer appropriate for digging through all of the stories posted by your favorite publishers. It’s going to be more focused on stories that have popped up in the last 24 hours, rather than seeing a long chronological list of content from a particular news source. And with your LinkedIn identity providing so much of the data used to serve you stories, there’s definitely a bigger focus on business than there was before. "The hope is that we become a personalized business news digest for the user," says Kothari, "and the key word is business." People might already have way too many options for reading on their phones, but LinkedIn is betting that there are enough people interested in a business-focused view of the news for Pulse to continue to find a place on people’s home screens.