This is how uncool I am: until I read about Klout at Wired.com, I had no idea what it was. In case you are an Internet loser like me, Klout is a service with a proprietary algorithm that scores how much of a net “influencer” you are (its tagline: “Klout is the Standard for Influence”). Upon my first try, I scored a measly 16, which classified me as a “dabbler.” A 50+ score is for the super savvy, whereas 20 is the average for most users. But when I “liked” one of their partners, WWF, I jumped to 45, making me a “networker.” With such a drastic increase with one Facebook like, I find their scoring methods suspect.
Ultimately I don’t really give a damn about my rank, but at first I have to admit that my initial score left me feeling like one of those kids in the park that no one will play with. Then I got a quick high from my score boost, fulfilling my inner desire to be liked and connected (these are part of the psychological motives that Sherry Turkle writes about in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other). Now that I have been confirmed as an insider (albeit by some kind of software glitch–I’m more likely still a 16), I have to ponder the meaning of this status.
Is it too simplistic for me to say this is just another popularity contest in which the jocks and cheerleaders prevail? Or is it revenge of the geeks? Is this wisdom of the crowds? Or just a measure of the mobs?
The first thing that makes me suspicious of this entire phenomenon is how it defines its particular ecosystem of cool. The only way to generate a score is to connect Klout to predetermined social networks that it dubs worthy. They mostly happen to be corporate platforms (Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, LastFM, etc.). There is no way to link my Klout score with my personal blog or presence within independent media communities. Nor does it measure my role within my own communities of practice. It also doesn’t gage my capacity for cultural citizenship. It merely measures how much of these activities have been filtered through the balkanized Web. In this sense, it may just reinforce the branding of social relationships and lead to a kind of digital fascism.
All media systems can be gamed. Klout just allows you to do it for dominant social media platforms. This is both good and bad. If you are a band, writer, activist, musician, etc. it’s good to have a tool that gives feedback for the kind of reach you have. As the graph above indicates, it has a matrix that defines different levels of participation, which allows one to make an action plan for attention.
It’s really hard to get a sense of how quality is measured, however. In fact, it really only shows us quantity. It appears that the algorithm rewards gratuitous and excessive networkers, even those who like to tweet when they are taking a crap. In the end, this just may very well be a refined engine for networked hubris.