Early Morning Open Thread: Klout (to the Side of the Head)

(Non Sequitur/Wiley Miller via GoComics.com)

Oh good, another reason to be glad I’m too old for social media. From Nicholas Thompson at the New Yorker:

… Social media also has a fraught relationship with competition. If you’re designing a social network, you want people to feel as though effort boosts status. That will lead to more effort. But competition can also be inimical to friendship. It’s hard to make everyone feel like a winner. And no one wants to use something that makes him or her feel like a loser…

The newest social media tool to grapple with this is Klout, a service for measuring your influence on all of these social networks. The company was launched two and a half years ago, and it has recently passed several important milestones. Wired just published a long feature on it; yesterday it released an iPhone app; and recently, for the first time, I read a letter from a job candidate that mentioned his Klout score.

Klout grades users on a scale of one to a hundred based on some proprietary algorithm that counts how often your comments are retweeted, liked, or shared. If you want your score to go up, tweet more and get influential people to retweet you. Don’t ever go on vacation. If you’re on a social network, Klout gets your score, whether you’ve ever logged into the service or not. Think of a mercenary socialite, holding a calculator and trying to figure out who to invite to a party based on import. Then put whatever number she arrives at on every guest’s lapel. That’s Klout. Rick Ross has a score of eighty-five; Rick Santorum has a score of eighty-two; Rick Perry has a score of sixty-six. Rick Astley has a score of forty-seven….

But clever ideas are not necessarily good ones, and Klout is designed in a way that makes it likely to fuel both unhealthy obsession and unhappy competition. When you log into Klout, it makes it easy to see, in order of score, exactly how all your friends rank. The number is more personal than those used by other social networks, and Klout displays it prominently. The iPhone app shows your Klout score in a blaring red circle —just like the number of unread e-mails and unheard voicemails. “Look at me!” it’s yelling. And sometimes, when you do look, it tells you that you’ve become less important, less interesting, less retweeted, or less whatever. Do you really want something in your pocket that will tell you what you’re worth?

The structure of social networks subtly changes the way we act. And Klout seems to encourage nothing good. To make your score go up, you have to tweet out of obligation, and you have to try to influence the other influencers. This fall, when Klout changed its algorithm, causing some people’s scores to drop suddenly, the C.E.O. of the company was subjected to harassment. “I got everything short of death threats,” he told Fox News. When you set your profile in Klout, you can pick “I am an individual influencer” or “I am a brand influencer.” I don’t really know what either means, but they both sound creepy. After I check Klout, I want to shower.

Do people actually want to get graded by algorithm, or is this one of those perverse ideas that geeks should have known better than to share with irony-impaired MBAs?

And apart from clueless questions, what’s on the agenda for the start of the weekend?

49 replies
  1. 1
    MattF says:

    Why don’t they just call it TrollWeb? I guess, on the other hand, that inventing a new Circle of Hell is a genuine accomplishment.

  2. 2

    Despite the threat of rain here in South Floria, I’m taking my newly-restored nearly-antique 1988 Pontiac 6000 LE Safari station wagon to its first car show as a participant up in Cooper City, Florida. Then tonight the Miami Friends meeting is throwing me a potluck — our way of celebrating — to welcome me back to the meeting after being away for thirty years (I joined in college and promptly moved away in 1974).

  3. 3
    Raven says:

    Um, THIS IS social media!

  4. 4
    Raven says:

    @Mustang Bobby: I have a friend with a 66 Mustang Convertible, 6cyl and he wants to put power steering in it. The google shows both a how-to and kits. Any advice, he is not capable of doing it himself.

  5. 5
    c u n d gulag says:

    “Do you really want something in your pocket that will tell you what you’re worth?”

    I already have something in my pocket that tells me what I’m worth.
    My wallet.
    And, since I’m still unemployed, I see that I’m worth $2.

    Is it too early for 2 $1 Tall Boy’s of beer?

    I can probably find some change in the couch to cover the tax. The couch is my ‘Savings Plan.’

  6. 6

    I’m actually registered on Facebook. In my late mother’s name. With noooooo personal information.

    It did it so I could read and interact with Occupy.

    And I agree: BJ is a social network. Does that agreement mean that I’m old? Probably.

  7. 7
    MikeJ says:

    @Mustang Bobby: Got pics of the car?

  8. 8

    There is already outright mockery of Klout Scores. Algorithmically, of course.

  9. 9
    the Conster says:

    If you need Klout to tell you what you’re worth, you’re a sad excuse for a human being. In other words, I can imagine the Villagers obsessing over it, rather like the updated version of whether or not you got a nickname from Boy Blunder.

    Preparing to start a two week supervised liver detox diet tomorrow, and have to go to a seminar today to get all the details. It’s one of those love/hate processes – I’ll hate it while I’m doing it, but love it in retrospect. No alcohol, salt or caffeine for two weeks sounds like going to Gitmo.

  10. 10
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Is this where people were recommending “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman? If so, thanks! Because the book is excellent.

    Turns out some of the book’s material is showing up in a Science magazine paper called Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief. The LA Times has an article Thursday about the paper, and I’m seeing other reporting on it as well. But all the reporting seems to be vastly overstating what the paper says. And from what I can tell, I don’t see how the Science paper is breaking any new ground. All the experiments are pretty much what Kahneman was reporting in the book.

    I’m going to try to get a copy of the actual article from the local library. No, I’m not willing to spend $15 at the Science website to score a PDF copy! Imagine that. I can catch a bus downtown and copy it myself.

  11. 11
    Shawn in ShowMe says:

    Balloon Juice is the MacNeil-Lehrer Report of social networks. Trending now — Ayn Rand, civil-rights era R&B and fat-assed, middle aged felines. Get off my lawn, dagnabbit!

  12. 12
    Scott S. says:

    I signed up on Klout the other day after reading the Wired article. It was kinda cute, as a curiosity. But I’m already tired of it after two or three days. I don’t want to be someone who cares about my Klout score — it’s very shallow and unimportant.

  13. 13
    NancyDarling says:

    Tech guru, father of virtual reality, and author of “You Are Not a Gadget”, Jaron Lanier, has a social media score of zero and likes it that way. (He doesn’t “do” facebook, but his cat does.) I haven’t read his book yet, but my son read it after my recommendation and says it is a good and worthwhile read. Lanier had an interesting conversation with Bob Wright on bloggingheads if anyone is interested. He is a fascinating fellow and the hour is well spent. Amazon has a short interview with him.


  14. 14

    @MikeJ: Here’s some from a few years ago (Jan 2009) when I noted the fact that I’d bought it twenty years before. I’ll have some more later today after the show.

  15. 15

    Cops move in on survivalist nutter in WA state suspected of killing his wife and daughter.

  16. 16

    @Raven: Not being a mechanic myself, I suggest he enlists a good mechanic. Working on the steering system isn’t like installing a stereo; if you make a mistake you’re in real trouble. It’ll be worth it.

  17. 17
    Phylllis says:

    @Joseph Nobles: It’s on the list to get for my kindle and read this summer when work slows down a bit.

  18. 18
    magurakurin says:

    @Shawn in ShowMe:

    a reasonable comparison. But I would argue that on a good day BJ is the Science Mystery Theatre 3000 of social media.

  19. 19
    Jay in Oregon says:

    This article was the first time I ever heard of Klout and told me all I need to know about Klout.


  20. 20
    Joseph Nobles says:

    @Phylllis: I bought the hardcover because a review at Amazon said some of the charts and illustrations didn’t translate well to the Kindle format, plus it’s loaded with endnotes. But the hardcover is $30 and the Kindle version a lot less. Maybe a trade paperback will be out soon.

  21. 21
    Ken says:

    It was during the first five minutes of The Social Network – that awkward restaurant scene, especially where Zuckerberg blurts out “You’re angry. I’m sorry” like a canned response – that I realized Facebook was designed by people who like reducing their emotional state to one of six pulldown menu choices.

  22. 22
    danielx says:

    Welllll…since the weather today is going to suck and continue to suck for the next five days, finishing the very much long drawn out process of stripping and restaining the deck is not on the agenda. Mrs. X and the soon-to-be graduate are going to go sit in the rain and see one of the grad’s pals playing soccer, and the only inside chores are things that can be safely put off. It’s a tossup between watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or reading Night Soldiers by Alan Furst. Anything by Alan Furst is worth reading, but Night Soldiers is supposed to be the best.

  23. 23
    danielx says:

    @Shawn in ShowMe:

    You left out the discussion of Mitt Romney’s complete cluelessness. Also. Too.

  24. 24
    Frank says:

    Todd had a piece in Friday’s Geek News Central about a fellow who failed to get a job because his Klout score was too low:


  25. 25
    NancyDarling says:

    @Frank: This is an issue that Jaron Lanier addresses. He also has some interesting things to say about digitalization of music and the concept of “lock-in”.

  26. 26
    PeakVT says:

    Will our next growth industry be Klout engine optimization? I can’t wait.

  27. 27
    RSA says:

    @Comrade Javamanphil:

    There is already outright mockery of Klout Scores.

    Funny. I checked myself, and I’m “a nice person”, possibly because I’ve only tweeted seven times since signing up on Twitter in mid-2009. Barack Obama is “a bit of a prat” while Mitt Romney is “quite noisy”.

  28. 28
    xian says:

    Lanier? how’s that virtual reality thing working out? (also I agree klout is weak. leader boards are the crudest way of spurring people on, like rats with their pellets)

  29. 29
    Ramiah Ariya says:

    I don’t understand the complaint. Google has a PageRank that ranks your personal blog or website. It already uses a proprietary algorithm that ranks your popularity based on incoming links.
    With social media and more user generated rank, we now have the same concept in social media. Does not seem radical or “unhealthy” obesession to me.

  30. 30
    El Cid says:

    Superpatriot world safety-maker Ronald Magnus Reagan the Great chose to suppress US knowledge of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program because they didn’t want this minor and irrelevant stuff to interrupt the flow of weapons and money to the Afghan mujahedeen wonder heroes, according to just-obtained declassified internal records.

    According to documents published today for the first time by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, Walters told Zia that Washington had “incontrovertible intelligence” that Pakistani representatives had “transferred designs and specifications for nuclear weapons components to purchasing agents in several countries for the purpose of having these nuclear weapons components fabricated for Pakistan.”
    Confronted with the evidence, Zia acknowledged that the information “must be true,” but then denied everything, leading Walters to conclude that either Zia “did not know the facts” or was the “most superb and patriotic liar I have ever met.” While Zia restated earlier promises not to develop a nuclear weapon and made pledges to avoid specific nuclear “firebreaks,” officials from Secretary of State George Shultz on down would conclude time and time again, that Zia was breaking his word.
    In 1986, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) director Kenneth Adelman wrote in a memorandum to the White House that Zia “has lied to us again,” and warned that failure to act would lead the General to conclude that he can “lie to us with impunity.” While the Reagan administration was concerned about nuclear proliferation, it gave a greater priority to securing aid to Pakistan so it could support the Afghan anti-Soviet insurgency. The White House and the State Department leadership hoped that building a strong bilateral relationship would dissuade Pakistan from building nuclear weapons.
    Top levels of the U.S. government let relations with a friendly government supersede nonproliferation goals as long as there was no public controversy that could “embarrass” the President the documents show. Indeed, Reagan administration officials feared that if the Pakistanis had told them the “truth” about the purpose and scope of their nuclear activities, it would have made it impossible for the administration to certify to Congress that Pakistan was not developing nuclear weapons. On that certification rode the continued flow of aid to assist the Afghanistan resistance. For the sake of that aid, senior Reagan administration officials gave Pakistan much slack by obscuring its nuclear activities, but that they wrote about lying and “breaking … assurances” suggests that lack of trust and confidence was an important element in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as it is today.

  31. 31
    Bubba says:

    Klout raises the same issues that universities have been struggling with since that first US News & World Report top colleges issue. USN&WR uses an arbitrary rating algorithm for universities that modify the universities’ behavior so that they can achieve a better score from the algorithm. Hasn’t been beneficial for higher education, either.

  32. 32
    WereBear says:

    The Klout thing is typical gaming of the system: once they have an algorithm to express a concept, they will have people flipping switches to see the bars go up. Thus invalidating the point of the whole thing…

    I only started Facebooking because it was a way to promote the cat blog; which worked. On my personal page, I don’t get personal; just interesting stuff I run across, keeping the rowdy opinions about politics and religion to myself… and here :) And I’m very firm about not responding to the stupid game apps, which was recently confirmed by this article:

    6 Devious Ways Farmville Gets People Hooked

    It’s a Cracked article, but I’ve got to tell you, from a pale shadow of Mad magazine when I was a tadpole, the web version has evolved into something that is both funny and informative, with lots of odd little facts woven in that are my special weakness.

    Slept in because I had an unexpected Tarot gig last night, with a new outfit; but it went very well and I want to work with them again. Part of it will finance a “girls day” in a nearby Big Town with a friend who sorely needs it.

  33. 33
    Valdivia says:

    Since I am not on FB or I don’t tweet my only experience with this was through instagram and it’s popular page. The funny thing to me–sociologically–is that little groups cropped up to game the algortyhm. By being member of the group they would all post at the same time and all are supposed to ‘like’ each other’s pictures so their pictures would become popular. The fact that by trying it on their own and then not being able to ever make the popular page they decided to get the validation in a different way in some other way seemed funny to me since the people weren’t responding to what they posted but instead to a dictum by group membership. Anyway the change in algorithm for the pop page made a vast number of people pretty mad. To me all of it just made it even more interesting–how the social media ecosystem works.

  34. 34
    Ramiah Ariya says:

    @Valdivia – such efforts are the basis of a whole specialty called Search Engine Optimization in web programming. They have existed long before Klout came in for social media. If we accept that Google’s pagerank has not had so many negative side effects, then we should also be fine with Klout.

  35. 35

    Here’s a fun one: “Dating”-type sites that match adoptable animals with the people yearning to adopt them:


  36. 36
    Phylllis says:

    @Joseph Nobles: I may wait for that version then. My problem with the big hardcovers is I just can’t hold on to them/hold them up to read for extended periods.

  37. 37
    Valdivia says:

    @Ramiah Ariya:

    see I didn’t know about the optimization.

    I had a kind of ambivalent feeling towards these groups trying to game the algorithm, on the one hand I understood why some people felt like their pictures should be recognized and make it to the pop page but in other I wondered how can they really feel like they are getting any validation that is real since their other pictures (outside the posting group time) were usually (in terms of comments and likes) not very appreciated.

    I guess for me the IG experience was more about community and knowing what people thought of the picture I posted than what an algorithm said. I’ll stop since I don’t know I am making sense.

    Off to march against the War on Women at the capitol

  38. 38
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Oh, jeeze, this is a lot like the old WoW gear score thing. Which determined that, yeah, you’ve got cool gear, but it’s possible that you still stand in fires.

  39. 39
    Amir Khalid says:

    Central KL shut down again today (Sat, April 28) because of Bersih 3.0 demo/rally. Was not there myself. But reports say some 80k people gathered at various staging points in the city and tried to march to Dataran Merdeka, the big field in the middle of town. (Cops’s official estimate 25k, highest local estimate 100k.) Huge riot-cop presence blocked them, as did the cops’ customary free use of tear gas. (Polis DiRaja Malaysia just loves them some tear gas; at last year’s Bersih 2.0, they teargassed a hospital’s parking lot. The hospital administration was pissed off about that because the windows in their patient wards face the parking lot.)
    Wikipedia article on Bersih 3.0 with background info here. Associated Press report here. If anyone’s interested, I’ll provide other links as they show up.

  40. 40
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    If anyone’s interested, I’ll provide other links as they show up.

    Yes, please.

  41. 41
    Robert says:

    I’ve been using Klout for about a month now. It is a helpful tool, but not in the way they promote it. It gives you statistics on how many people click your links, share your tweets, and what topics people respond to more.

    I run a media criticism site. I’ve learned that people are more likely to share my posts on individual songs rather than entire albums. They rally around video game reviews but leave book criticism alone. I use that information to know where to share posts. Twitter gets the immediacy posts–videos, recaps, reviews on opening week/end, etc.–while I use Facebook, G+, or Reddit for more in depth/less immediate posts.

    The competition aspect is stupid. I only look at that to see which twitter users are linking/responding to my content. I know I can have a multi-tweet conversation with the editor of one site but not a staff writer at another.

    None of this is Klout’s intention. But the influence aspect is unique. Other apps cover who follows you and how active they are. This covers why they follow you and what they want.

  42. 42
    Amir Khalid says:

    There have been rallies in solidarity with Bersih 3.0 in a number of cities outside Malaysia with a substantial Malaysian expatriate population, in particular Singapore and Sydney, Australia.

    Still waiting for participants’ eyewitness reports.

  43. 43
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    @the Conster: If you need Klout to tell you what you’re worth, you’re a sad excuse for a human being.


    I’m on Facebook and have a great time with it – by not taking it seriously, never discussing politics or anything I don’t want strangers to know about me, no matter how private it claims to be. If people want to approach it competitively, fine, but it sounds like no fun.

  44. 44
    Amir Khalid says:

    The YouTube has this video of Bersih 3.0 demonstrators overturning a white cop car after its driver rammed a few demonstrators. The woman heard in the clip is saying: “Damn the police! Turn it [the cop car] over! Turn it over!” Then she counts to three and the crowd turns it over before dispersing. You’ll note in the comments a claim that one of the people rammed has died.

  45. 45
    Jay in Oregon says:

    There are people who are being asked for their Facebook passwords in job interviews, too. Doesn’t make it right, or mean that it’s a trend that will last long.

    Sounds like the guy in question had the bad luck to be interviewed by someone who’s obsessed with Klout. (On the other hand, it was a VP slot at a marketing firm, and Klout seems like the kind of thing that would appeal to people who are into online marketing and networking.)

    The rest of that reads like a typical Wired puff piece. Oh noes, if your Klout score isn’t high enough, you can’t get things like free Windows phones! People at hotels are looking up your Klout score when you check in and may offer you a free room upgrade if it’s high enough!

    Any system that puts Justin Beiber at 100 (And the Aflac Duck on the board at all) isn’t one worth taking seriously.

  46. 46


    Tech guru, father of virtual reality, and author of “You Are Not a Gadget”, Jaron Lanier, has a social media score of zero and likes it that way.

    For those who can’t afford it, you can also find the book for free as a pdf if you google around for it. I’m about halfway through it myself. Lanier used to irritate me back in the 1990s, but his transformation from ‘MSM’s idea of what a cybergeeenius is’ to ‘cranky old techno-mage full of cautionary tales’ seems to be complete. And IMO we’re all better off for it. Book recommended. He’ll be dismissed as a Luddite heretic by the kewl kids any day now.

    As far as Klout is concerned, I read the WiReD article and it was frankly depressing. Yet another arbitrary metric having nothing to do with actual skills or job ability for the MBAs to use to reshape the world into their own pointless, craven image. BTW, the general idea of using a reputation system for economic purposes isn’t new (it at least goes back to Cory Doctorow). I didn’t much care for the idea then, either.

  47. 47
    Michael57 says:

    @NancyDarling: Isn’t Amazon that company that uses algorithms to recommend your next book to read? I think Lanier would rather have you link to a real bookstore.

  48. 48
    RalfW says:

    I’m weirdly thankful for Klout. Because it points out (once again) how alienating and distancing ‘social’ networking is.

  49. 49
    NancyDarling says:

    @Michael57: Touche, Michael. Kinda hard to recommend a book store for a national blog. Also, I thought the short interview and reviews might interest some.

    For the record, I am almost a tech-illiterate (as my children will attest) and just discovered Lanier a few months ago. I can understand most of the things Lanier talks about and the ramifications for the rest of us. Besides when watching him with Bob Wright, I was enchanted with everything about him, from his dreads to his infectious giggle.

    I only made it through high school plane geometry and can’t to this day explain what a logarithm is, let alone an algorithm. I made it through two semesters of college chemistry by sheer will and working my butt off and lots of memorization—in the days of slide rules which I had to teach myself to use.

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