The New Klout: A Warmer, Fuzzier Bottom Line on Your Online Reputation

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Harry McCracken /

People tend to have strong opinions about Klout, the Silicon Valley startup which analyzes online influence and boils it down to a credit-score-like single number on a scale of one to 100.

Some folks check their Klout scores obsessively, and get excited when the number creeps upward. Others say that Klout does a poor job of accurately analyzing influence, or that it’s not transparent enough about its methods. Still others argue that it’s a bad idea, period. And I suspect that many people have complex, shifting opinions about the service.

Today, Klout is introducing a new version, with recalibrated scores and additonal features. I don’t think it’ll turn Klout haters into Klout lovers. But those who are on the fence may be swayed. It’s now clearer how Klout comes to the conclusions it does, and the whole exercise feels a little less stern and a little more complimentary.

(Everyone will see the new scores starting today; the new site and its additional features will roll out over the coming weeks.)

It’s easiest to feel good about Klout, of course, if Klout feels good about you. Klout founder Joe Fendandez told me that most people will see their scores go up in the new version. Mine did — I’m now an 82, up from 70. (Oddly enough, that’s roughly where I was prior to Klout’s last big recalibration, which happened in April of 2011.)

As with a credit score, it’s still impossible to completely reverse-engineer how you get your Klout score: I’m not sure why I’m not an 80 or an 84. But the service is trying to come up with its bottom-line numbers in a more sophisticated manner.

It now considers 400 pieces of information from social sources such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, up from 100 in the previous version. It also gives higher scores to those who are the subjects of Wikipedia articles, especially if many other sites link to those articles. Altogether, Klout says, it’s analyzing 12 billion data points a day, up from one billion.

Fernandez told me that all those additional tidbits it’s considering result in scores that do a better job of mapping to the real world. In the past, for example, Justin Bieber has had a perfect score of 100, while Barack Obama has had a 95. With the new scoring system, the pop phenom drops to a 92, and the leader of the free world gets a 99.

The old version of Klout gave you a bunch of graphs which dug into the details of your online reputation. But they were cryptic and — unless the trend was consistently upward — somewhat alarming. In the new version, the emphasis is on information that’s both clearer and cheerier. You’re now presented with a list of “moments” — things you did online in the last 90 days which helped your Klout score, such as tweets which got retweeted by an unusually high number of people. Klout describes the new format as a social resume; if you’re interested in Klout at all, it’s a reason to visit the site more frequently than you do now.

The new version also does away with the one-word categorizations Klout assigned to each user, such as Specialist and Broadcaster. That’s not a bad idea, since it often wasn’t clear why any specific person got a particular label. (Then again, the one Klout gave me — Pundit — pretty much nailed it.)

So why do Klout scores matter at all? Well, for one thing, the company sometimes works with marketing partners to offer “Perks,” such as plane tickets and previews of upcoming TV shows, to some of its users based on their social profiles. And the whole idea of a standardized scoring system such as this is for it to gain wide acceptance; in theory, at least, your Klout score could help or hurt you the next time you apply for a job.

Other startups, such as PeerIndex and Kred are also measuring social influence in a generally similar manner, but Klout has the most traction so far. I’ll be curious to see whether the new version helps its own online reputation.