Klout: A Good Idea Done Wrong?

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Joe Fernandez, founder and CEO of Klout.

Apparently not deterred by the outcry the last time Klout changed its algorithm, the company’s CEO Joe Fernandez announced at LeWeb London ’12 that Klout is planning to “expand how it monitors its users’ reach by measuring how they influence people offline as well as rolling out a new algorithm update in the near future,” says The Next Web.

If you’re not familiar with the site, its raison d’être is to measure how influential you are in social media, an opportunistic and clever response to the onset of the Facebook Age. Recently the site has been pushing Klout Perks, where corporations offer you discounts or even free products and services if you’re influential enough.

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How far is Fernandez looking to push this? To the point where even your future employers will be looking at your Klout score, as he told Forbes:

Klout is basically your social credit score. Consumers should care because it affects the way employers, companies and everyone looks at your ability to spread information as a critical part of the attention economy today.

Welcome to your future, netizens! Yes, it’s all the fun of being monitored by a credit bureau with the added bonus of having brands judge your worth based on your Twitter account.

The best part? Klout’s rating process is both confusing and opaque. Do you know what I’m influential in? Cars, plastic and religion. I don’t remember ever writing about those topics.

Adding in another factor — how users influence people offline — seems like a bold step for a company that hasn’t figured out how users influence people online. Not that the concept of measuring social media influence is a bad thing; if done right, it would be extremely useful.

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As someone who loves social media, I would be thrilled if a company gave me useful insight on how influential I was. Currently, I am most influential in “Pizza,” which is actually something I know a lot about. But what happens when I try to figure out why I’m influential in pizza?  Nothing. Klout doesn’t have any graphs, a Tweet history or anything that might let me know why the good people of the Internet turn to me for their pizza needs.

The fact that Klout provides so little useful information points to something more disturbing: Klout wants a monopoly on that information so it can leverage it with corporations. The more Klout is seen as the gatekeeper of online influence, the more power it has over brands that want access to influential people.

In the end, I think that might be its undoing. People flock to online services because they’re useful, intuitive and trustworthy. Trying to establish yourself as the ultimate authority on something and then getting everybody to play along afterwards doesn’t seem like the right way to do it.

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