The problem with Klout is us

Tim Malbon
Tim Malbon

There's a lot being written about Klout at the moment, people for it and against it. Most of the discourse seems to be about how the score is generated and what 'influence' in this context means.

Klout scores are generated from levels of social networking activity, and Klout says this equals social influence - which in a very blunt way it does. It's true that your score is a measure of engagement but it's a very crude metric that needs careful qualification.

The problem is that people don't read it like this, because Klout feeds a very human tendency we all share by fueling our instinctive self-regard, insecurities and narcissism. 

I'm not saying there aren't lots of other problems with it. Anyone who spends more than a few minutes looking online will see them.

For example, although I find them very funny, I am not sure that @ThisIsPartridge (Klout score = 75),  @DepressedDarth (Klout score = 84) and my favourite Chuck Norris follow @Chuck_Facts (Klout score = 74) really deserve to be thought of as more influential than Clay Shirky/@cshirky (Klout score = 56). 

Well, aside from comedy anyway. And, *obviously*, if Chuck Norris wanted to be "a prominent thinker on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies", we all know he'd just rip Shirky a new one.

Yes, it seems to me that there's lots wrong with Klout. Its sophisticated-yet-still-crude-measurement-of-social-activity-with-a-bias towards Twitter means that noisy bots, troll and comedy accounts are all classed as being more influential in general terms than they really are. And you can game it. Still.

And, conversely, Klout punishes you for not being on Twitter - however influential you might be in real life, of which your online social life is only a component.

The way Klout increases your score the more of your networks you link up to it (i.e. the more information you give it about yourself) also seems a bit suspect... as if the best way to have a big Klout score might be to use Klout a lot? Hmmm?

Of course, these are wrinkles that we all accept in other metrics software - as many of Klout's defenders point out. All true, but the point that other forms of metrics are also flawed does not seem to be a good reason to believe more ardently in Klout. 

Perhaps the level of engagement of a website or campaign is just a less sensitive thing to measure than the social influence of a person.

I think that it's this that makes me feel uneasy about Klout.  

It's because we are such social creatures that we tend to obsess with the pecking order and need constant grooming. It's part of our evolutionary legacy - baked in to our basic human operating system every bit as much as a love of eating too much fatty and sugary food. And Klout exploits this by appearing to give us an easy answer to the question of where we stand at any time in a living network. It offers us not merely a tool for seeing where we are but seemingly also a way to increase our score, and to become - in our sad, insecure little monkey brains - more successful.

I think we want to know where we stand so much that we ignore Klout's limitations, which is our failing.

Klout's just a tool. And so are we.

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