Connecting people and ideas through improvisation

My Beef with Klout

original image (cc) FotoosVanRobin

If you’re unfamiliar with Klout, it is a service that tries to measure social influence for people who are active online, and assigns them a score. The goal is to make it easier for companies to identify influencers in a topic area. If you haven’t checked your own score, hop over and take a look. Klout is watching you!

The big question is how good Klout does its job. In my humble option, Klout not only doesn’t do that great, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be possible for Klout to work the way businesses want it to.

The problem is that social influence is a hideously tricky thing to measure. Is it how often someone tweets? Is it what they tweet about? Does a retweet or reshare measure influence? Klout looks at all of these things and more, and has a ton of very smart people distill what works from what doesn’t to constantly improve your score.

There are two reasons I think it can’t work. The first is practical, the second is theoretical.

Klout Is Easily Confused

My first example of why I think Klout is silly is that I am not a terrorist.

I am many things, but not a terroristSee, a few months back a Phoenix area smart-ass gave me a fake +K bump on Terrorism for Klout. Others thought it was funny and did the same. I get a new one every so often, and for the past few months Terrorism has been my greatest topic of influence on Klout.

The thing is, I never talk about Terrorism. I only talk about it now in a weird meta-discussion about how I don’t talk about it, but that’s still a fraction of the things I say and do online. I work on local Phoenix events, work on digital publishing, and a ton of other things. To Klout, all of that falls below a practical joke. If you want hard proof that Klout’s engine is easy to game and trick, even with all those smart people they employ, here you go.

Summaries Are Always Incomplete

The second example is a bit more abstract, but I think just as real. Social relationships are a complex system, and you cannot simplify a complex system to a simple number without losing important information. Yes, Klout has more aspects than just the the Klout score, but even if you add in the other Klout items you still have a very small set of graphs and indicators to look at. Like the meat grinder at the top of this post, once the hamburger emerges you can no longer tell if what went in was Filet Mignon or leftover scraps.

Consider movie reviews as a less graphic analogy. Roger Ebert famously distilled the complex discussion of movies to Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down, and he has talked about the difficulties that creates. Does the Thumbs Up for a silly comedy like City Slickers mean the same as a Thumbs Up for a classic like Casablanca? They can both be good movies in their own way, but you need a lot more discussion to really compare the two. I personally love and respect Ebert’s opinion on movies, but I’ve disagreed with his ratings many times. I’d have missed many great films if I only used his Thumbs Up list as a starting point.

And that’s the problem with Klout – it will always be incomplete or wrong, and never be as good as business want it to be. Sadly, businesses want a shortcut to finding influencers, and they are going to start with Klout generated lists. This will drive people to try and game the system, and away we go. I understand why businesses want this short cut, but there will never be a replacement for simply being active in a community or social sphere. Then you will really know who the influencers are.

PS – If you want to opt out of Klout, you can do so by deleting your account an your Profile Settings page.
PPS – Krystofer James vanSlyke isn’t JUST a smart-ass. Check out his VoiceMuze project creating music from voice mail…