In Defense of Klout

I really, really try not to talk too much about blogging and social networking on here — mainly because I think that kind of navel-gazing can quickly become kinda pointless and meta and irritating — but as I’ve been trying to reach out and build a following online this past year, one of the tools I’ve found useful is Klout.  The tide of public opinion seems to be turning against them lately, so I thought I’d take a minute to talk about what I get out of it.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me bring you up to speed: Klout is a site that tries to examine your activity on various social networking sites, and analyze how people respond to that activity, and assigns you a “Klout score” from 1 to 100 to indicate how influential they think you are.

Several people have expressed concerns over privacy issues, largely because Klout was creating “accounts” for people who had never signed up for the service, and because some of those people were minors.  I agree that this is problematic, but I think their response has been appropriately swift and contrite.  (When they realized they were pulling in information about minors, they made changes to their system within two hours.)  People called them on this issue, and they said, “yeah, you’re right, we screwed up,” like grown-ups.

Other people started complaining when Klout recently changed the way that they calculate their scores, and several users found that their score had dropped dramatically overnight as a result.

Me, for example.  My score dropped by fifteen points.  Now, I can totally get why some people would take this way too personally, but I’m not one of them.  It’s their ranking system; if they decide they want to change their methodology and the number that comes out of that revamped system is a little different, I don’t see how that’s worth losing sleep over.  I’m still just as “influential” as a I was the day before they made their changes.  It’s like getting a different grade in a class based on, say, a certain number of right answers vs. giving some answers more “points” than others, vs. grading the entire class on a curve — none of that changes how well you actually did on the test.

But some people aren’t comfortable with Klout doing the grading at all, and one of those people is author John Scalzi:

Who made Klout the arbiter of online influence, aside from Klout itself? [….] I’m sure Klout has what it considers an excellent rationale for whatever stew of algorithms it uses to assign you a number, but neither you nor I know what it is, or (more importantly) why it’s valid as an accurate determiner of your online influence and popularity.

I’m not sure I get this argument at all, and Scalzi’s certainly not the only one making it lately.  Let me ask you the same question about someone else:

Who made Google the arbiter of what web pages are the most important and relevant on their topics, aside from Google themselves?

Nobody on the Internet who steps forward and says “I’m an expert!” is democratically vetted, put through due diligence, and given some official stamp of approval.  People either believe them or ignore them.

From everything I can see, the people behind Klout seem like pretty smart guys.  Their system may not be perfect yet, but I can tell they genuinely care about it and are working to make it as accurate as they can.  They have talked about what goes into their rankings, without going into any detail that would give away their trade secrets, and I think it makes sense.  I don’t need to know exactly how the sausage is made.

But that aside, it leaves one main concern — what is your Klout score for?  What good is it?  Scalzi writes:

Aside from the occasional quid pro quo freebie, it seems that what Klout exists to do is create status anxiety — to saddle you with a popularity ranking, and then make you feel insecure about it and whether you’ll lose that ranking unless you engage in certain activities that aren’t necessarily in your interest, but are in Klout’s. In other words Klout exists to turn the entire Internet into a high school cafeteria, in which everyone is defined by the table at which they sit.

— DeKloutifying – Whatever.

Oh, huh.  Okay.  I can see why it might seem like that.  And I can see why a lot of people might treat it like that, even, and I can see where that would create an issue.

I don’t think of it that way.  I am not my Klout score, and my Klout score is not me.  I am not the thing being measured.  Not even my “popularity” is the thing being measured.

What is being measured, as best as I can tell, is — how well am I engaging with people?  How many conversations am I starting?  How much of the information I put out there is interesting and relevant enough to people that they’re sharing links to it with their friends?  Am I communicating enough, and does that communication have any effect?

All of that is very important to me — it tells me whether or not I’m doing my job.  I can see it fluctuate based on how active I am — if I go too long without posting to this blog, starting conversations on Twitter, talking to people — I can see my Klout score drop.  When I get back into making more of an effort to engage in conversation — I see it go back up.

That’s why Klout is valuable to me — not as a metric of my “popularity,” but as something that reminds me to keep putting myself out there and getting in conversations with people like you.

So now that we’re having a conversation — what do you think?  Do you pay any attention to Klout scores, either your own or other people’s?  Let me know in the comments.