How come I can’t decide for myself what influence on the web means to me? Who died and left Klout king? This isn’t just the sour grapes ramblings of someone with a Klout score of 48, but a serious question with serious societal implications.
For those of you who don’t know Klout, it’s a social media analytics company with a tool for measuring people’s influence on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. It’s a simple idea – and a good one: a mirror for comparing how popular…er, I mean, how much influence we have relative to others.
For whatever reason, I haven’t tended to pay that much attention to my Klout score, but last month, while on a long road trip with my wife and kids, I did happen to look at my Klout score and noticed it had dropped significantly while I was away. Klout punished me for taking vacation and not being online.
It got me thinking about the fact that I really don’t understand how Klout’s scoring algorithms work. It also got me wondering why some small handful of people in this company were deciding which specific mixtures of influence factors really mattered – and why that decision wouldn’t be better left to me.
Here’s what I’m thinking:
An Influence Tuner:
Imagine if all this worked a little differently. What if a tool like Klout gave me my own set of slider bars so that I could set my weightings on various influence factors that I think are important. By moving the sliders, the lists of people I’m connected to dynamically adjust, re-ranked based on the particular weightings I’ve assigned. Want to see who’s got the biggest following? Zing. Who generates the most conversation on Twitter? Zing. On Google+ (once the API comes out)? Zing. Just adjust the influence tuner.
Where it gets really interesting though is when I start mixing and matching my own variables and combining them in interesting ways using something like a Wolfram Alpha calculator widget. I might want to combine someone’s retweets on Twitter with their likes on Facebook, or I might want to divide someone’s Twitter follower count by their total “mentions.” Who knows what I might come up with?
Network analyst, Valdis Krebs has an interesting “LFR score” that would be a breeze to implement with something like this. So it’s not just amateurs like me who might come up with interesting influence composites. Pros like Valdis might dig in and help us all by developing a whole range of different measures. Pros and amateurs could make their influence measures available for others to use. They could name them too, and they would spread and become popular, based on how useful they were to different people in different situations.
Yes, what I’m talking about is a marketplace for influence indicators. Competition is a good thing. Transparency is a good thing. Diversity is a good thing.
Why Does This Really Matter?
Here’s the thing. I’ve got nothing against the folks at Klout. I think it’s great that they came up with a more nuanced set of influence measures than the simple popularity contests of who’s got the most Twitter followers or Facebook friends. On that measure, they’ve shifted our social media behavior in positive directions.
My problem, and why this really matters, is that the Klout score is now transforming into something that closes more doors than it opens. Mark Schaefer relates some disturbing anecdotes about hiring decisions, conference invitations and real world social circles being determined by people’s Klout scores.
I’m not some wild-eyed idealist. We use proxies like Klout scores, job titles and where we went to school to help us quickly separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to investing our personal and institutional time and resources. It’s human nature, and it’s tied to some very deep social programming going back hundreds of thousands – probably millions – of years that keeps us fascinated with stack ranking ourselves against one another. Klout is just the latest, high-tech version of these tendencies flaring up again.
But that doesn’t make it good or the kind of behavior we should be reinforcing with the new set of tools now available to us. We are capable of so much more nuance than this. We are capable of something better – something more soulful and human – something that fits more closely to the truly diverse and complex nature of our relationships to the various people in our lives.
Perhaps without even realizing it themselves, Klout has created a new rat race, a new hamster wheel. I don’t like how that made me feel when I was on vacation. I don’t like the fact that their algorithms are developed behind close doors. And I don’t like the simplistic notion that one score can capture all the various subtleties of influence that each of us carry around in our heads.
An influence tuner would address at least some of these problems. Though it’s important to note that it still doesn’t do anything to prevent the digital divide from becoming even more entrenched as a gate keeper to social mobility.
Someone is going to come up with a tool that does this. Hey folks at Klout – will it be you all? Or will you just be the “Klout” settings on some new upstart’s new (and more popular) service?