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I’ve Got a Clot in My Klout: Influence Across a Distributed Social Web.

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I’ve been a fan of Klout since its inception. I was a relatively early adopter of its services and believer in its ideal to become the standard for influence measurement. I still use Klout and believe in their vision. Why else would I place a Klout widget on my About Me page?

But there are two issues that I wish to address. First, only one of the six listed most influential topics on my Klout profile make sense. Second, without connecting my Facebook account, I’m significantly penalized.

These two issues have big ramifications for those of use trying to build the Social Web.

Luke, Use the Foci

About three or four months ago, I tweeted the same observation concerning the most influential topics list on my Klout profile. Someone from Klout promptly @replied to my tweet stating that with continued use, the algorithms would more accurately determine my most influential topics. But this list has remained unchanged.

I have not bothered to check this assertion, but I believe that sixty percent of my time tweeting and ninety percent of my time writing is spent on the topic of a user-centric, distributed Social Web. This is divided between generic categories of Internet freedoms (GPL, open source in general, net neutrality, data portability, privacy, identity, BuddyPress) and Web 3.0 (Semantic Web/Linked Data, smartups, WebID, FOAF, RDFa).

Yet my Klout profile does not reflect any of that. In fact, “Indiana” is one of my listed most influential topics when I would guess that fewer than 1% of my tweets have used that word.

Of course, I could be wrong. Klout can scour my backtweets a lot more efficiently and effectively than I can. It may be that fewer of my tweets are about those topics than I realize, that few people retweet any of my tweets that are about my primary foci. Perhaps I engage in conversational chatter on Twitter more often than I think.

Whatever the actual truth held within my Twitter data, I’d be very surprised if “Indiana, SEO, Design, Influence, Google” are my most popular topics. I rarely use any of those words in my Tweets or hashtags.

I do not spend my time within the dungeons of Mordor, I mean Facebook.

But it could quite possibly be that Klout is accurate, that those are my most influential topics. If so, that means that the vast majority of my time has been wasted, that I shouldn’t bother tweeting about #privacy, #identity, #opensource, #Web30, #BuddyPress, #SemanticWeb, #WebID…etcetera.

I’m of course being somewhat facetious. The reality is that I already know for which issues most people retweet and @mention me—and it is not the topics that Klout claims I’m most influential on. However, when the vast majority of my tweeting and blogging foci aren’t reflected in the self-proclaimed “Standard for Influence”, I have to wonder whether Klout’s algorithms need some tweaking, or whether I’ve got a clot in my Klout.

Interestingly, and on a side note, influence is one of my most influential topics! In my mind that evokes the image of a self-referential, infinite-looping, circular-referencing maelstrom.

An Audience with Sauron

Without connecting my Facebook profile to my Klout profile, I’m penalized forty percent—whatever that means, I don’t like the sound of it.

Although I do have a Facebook account, I do not use Facebook. I think I have four or so people whose friendship I’ve accepted and who are obviously waiting with baited breath to see what I’m going to say. To date, I have not made a single wall post. So, they will be waiting for a lot longer as I plan to never post any content in Facebook.

In fact, I think in 2010, I may have bothered to login to Facebook three times and that was only to checkout one or two aspects of its interface.

Why don’t I use Facebook? If you’ve been following my tweets and reading my articles posted to my site, you will already understand why. Facebook is antithetical to most of what I believe the Social Web is about. I’m professionally working on helping to bring the concept and infrastructure of the Social Web to fruition. Thus, I do not spend my time within the dungeons of Mordor, I mean Facebook.

Since I don’t use Facebook, some of you may ask why I use Twitter then, as it too is just another private data island. Simple. Although Twitter is a participant in the closed-silo wars, my posted content is accessible to anyone who wants to see it. In other words, they do not have to be logged in to access my Stream. With Facebook, you must not only have an account but also be logged in and be a friend of that person to see their Stream.

As I’m trying to promote the concepts of an open, distributed, user-centric Social Web, Twitter lets me get the message out to everyone—whether they follow me or not, whether they’re logged in or not, whether they have a Twitter account or not.

An Island of Misfit Toys

If Klout is to become the true measure, source, authority, standard for influence across the online world, then it needs to stop living exclusively within the social-networking private clubs. Why? Because influence occurs across the Web-based and mobile-based Internet. It isn’t restricted to closed social-media silos.

What about all of my online activity that occurs within my various blogs? Many people comment on my articles. What about the activity that occurs on forums, like the BuddyPress support forum where I’m a moderator (albeit a very inactive one lately)? What about on identica, or Diaspora, or the various niche BuddyPress sites that are beginning to pop up?

Conversations and influence flow beyond closed private data islands. Much activity occurs across the decentralized Web. In fact, for those of us fighting for the Social Web, we envision a day when most of the social activity will occur across a user-centric, decentralized, distributed architecture. The exclusive walled gardens of the Web will become a relic of the bygone, archaic Web-2.0 days.

Right now, a Klout score may best be summarized as a subjective measure of influence within a few select groups of data clubs. If a Klout score is to become the “standard measure of online influence” as proclaimed on their Twitter profile, then a user’s influence across the entire Social Web must be objectively calculated.

Shouldn’t my activity across the entire Internet be factored into my influence? Shouldn’t the activity of all of those who spend their time outside the Islands of Misfit Toys count for something? Of course.

Does this really matter? Yes.

As companies are beginning to use Klout scores to assess a potential candidate’s job application, to determine if a particular person has sufficient influence to be awarded a consulting contract, and for other inevitably unknown purposes, the accuracy and integrity of that score becomes paramount to all the Web’s citizens. Presently, too much importance is being placed on a Klout store, most likely to the unfair detriment of some.

As some company is going to win the influence-measurement war, if you care about your clout and how it is determined on Klout, provide them with feedback and the ways in which you think they could improve their service.

Update

December 22, 2010: Less than 12 hours after posting this article, my Klout Most Influential Topics list has changed since the first time I can remember. It’s still very inaccurate, but notice that the topic “Google” has been replaced with “Open Source”. A coincidence? I sure hope so. Otherwise I’m going to have to keep writing articles to get this all straightened out.

December 22, 2010 (Update 2): Joe Fernandez, the Cofounder and CEO of Klout, contacted me via Twitter this afternoon asking if I’d like to talk. We chatted for awhile about the issues I brought up in this article and some of the directions in which Klout will be heading in the near future. After talking with Joe–a very nice guy by the way–it is clear to me that they are thinking about the larger ramifications of their service and what it truly means to be the standard measure of online influence. Their task is very challenging indeed. It’s nice to know that Joe cares enough about their users to take the time to listen to feedback and communicate their dedication to continually evolving and improving their platform.

Related Outside Articles

The Read Write Web article that has brought some visitors to the post and triggered a small discussion, 4 Ways Klout Can Evolve.

An interesting though piece by Justin Goldsborough, Why Klout scares me; Hint: It’s not the tool itself

Article Comments

  1. Carrie says:

    I’m so glad it isn’t just me. I found your post from a Google search while trying to find out what the hell is up with the most-influential-topics list. Like you, for ages I’ve had the same unchanging list six topics I’ve never, ever tweeted about.

    It looks as if the first three got pulled from metadata in the photo I use as a custom background. The second three are still a mystery. I suppose I might have used the word “casual” in a tweet at some point, but surely no more than once. I know for a fact I’ve never tweeted anything about “jeans” and I don’t even KNOW what “awr” is. It’s not even a word. I Googled that too, and it might be the American States Water Company, Adventist World Radio or Anthony Woodford Racing, or electromagnetic engineering company. None of which were things I even knew existed, let alone tweeted about.

    It’s hard for me to put any credence in a system that seems so haphazard. But other people do, so I guess I’ll keep building up my reputation as an expert in casual jeans and awr.

  2. Hi Jeff:

    My name is Philip Hotchkiss and I’m the Chief Product Officer at Klout.

    We really appreciate your thoughtful post – we are always eager for feedback and looking to improve our product. And thanks for being and early fan of Klout.

    I’d like to offer you and your readers some perspective on two issues you pointed out in your post.

    Let’s start with Facebook integration. Based on the description of your activity on Facebook, you are absolutely NOT penalized for not connecting your Facebook account to your Klout profile. I can see how the progress bar you called out in your post could give you the impression that you are penalized 40% – we need to do a better job communicating what this progress bar means. I assure you and your readers, the progress bar simply encourages people to complete their profile in the Dashboard section of Klout.com. It in no ways reflects the percentage that a user’s Facebook activity contributes to the Klout score.

    You can test this easily, connect FB for a couple of days, see the impact on your score and then disconnect it. You will notice that the impact is minimal based on how little you use Facebook.

    Secondly, your points on Klout topics are well taken. We need to do better here and we are working hard to balance timeliness and robustness of the topics that we do surface for each user. It’s also important to note that our topic summary is not driven solely by what you Tweet or post – this is another area where we need to do a better job of communicating. We also factor in how other people you interact with associate certain topics with you. I can’t go into detail on how our algorithm does this, but we are constantly working to improve the timeliness and balance of our topic summary for each user.

    I hope these insights are helpful.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Philip –

      Thanks for the detailed response. One important measure of a great company—whether a nascent startup or a firmly-ensconced player in a market—is the way in which they handle feedback. After my discussion with Joe this afternoon and your response to my article, I have a feeling that Klout deeply cares about its users’ concerns and is diligently working on improving the platform. Thank you, too, for taking the time to address my concerns.

  3. Liz Pullen says:

    Yeah, my topic areas have nothing to do with what I talk about or what I do for a living. I think “Marketing” is at the top and I don’t work in marketing. There is nothing about higher education or research. You’d think it might be best if they scanned your Twitter bio and got an idea of what ones interests were.

    Of course, the complicated algorithm they put together, the amount of people & connections (the followers or my followers) it so complex, it boggles my mind. But as complicated as it is, I still have a higher score than Katie Couric which makes me laugh and not take Klout too seriously.

    I think it is fine as a measure of influence but the fact that it is the only measure some of these companies look at (because anyone can get your Klout score instantaneously) and one they use to make decision on whom to hire is ridiculous and scary. The whole business of measuring influence is a work-in-progress and some companies are treating it as if it’s a number that sums up an entire person and their interactions online.

  4. David Perdew says:

    Thank you Jeff, for this case study of a Klout user in action, and some of the data behind what, currently and in the future, goes into developing a score for influence. Clearly, there is work to be done to be less biased on any one client or online habit, but it sounds like Klout is taking the right steps to match their results with their own meteoric rise as an authority of influence. It will be interesting to see how the tool adapts to feedback.

  5. Jeff, this is one of the most thoughtful posts I’ve read on the whole Klout/influence thing, and I haven’t commented on most of them either because a) I don’t care to join in the echo chamber of rants by bloggers who are trying to get attention by doing so, or b) very few of them actually provide constructive feedback as to how Klout could improve its service, as you’ve done. Kudos.

    You articulated something I’ve been thinking about but haven’t put down in writing: that if one’s true online influence is to be objectively assessed, then it should indeed include one’s activity across the entire web, and not just pieces of it. It seems, from your report of your conversation with Joe and Philip’s response to your post that they are indeed thinking about it, so hats off to them. Whether they will succeed remains to be seen.

    The second thing that we all need to remind themselves is that influence, like everything else, is contextual. For example, I found your post via a tweet by @JGoldsborough, which shared Klout’s perspective in a ReadWriteWeb post, on which you’d commented, mentioning this post. Now, for the most part I like RWW, but it doesn’t really “influence” me to do anything. Justin, on the other hand, is someone I know, like and respect, so when he shared the post, I clicked through. And finally, your headline attracted me.

    RWW’s Klout score is listed, as of this writing, at 80; Justin’s is currently 58. But it wasn’t the higher score that influenced me to click through; it was the referral by someone I trust, coupled with a great headline from someone I don’t know (you!), that brought me here. So numbers by themselves don’t mean anything, and that has been the case for years, which a lot of folks seem to forget. Context is everything.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Shonali –

      I appreciate your thoughtful comments. You have put your finger on two additional pieces of the puzzle—context and trust.

      The discussion that is occurring within this thread (the comments to my article) is the result of a confluence of factors. For instance, if you did not sufficiently trust Justin’s opinions, you would not have taken the time to read the RWW article. But you did trust him, so you clicked through to the link. Then, had you not been intrigued by the context alluded to in the title of my post, you would not have arrived here and participated in this discussion.

      The problem is that Klout’s current measurement of influence ends at that first step. The flow of influence stops when you arrived at the RWW article. It does not flow through your decision to click the link to my article. Furthermore, the discussion occurring here is not factored into the metric. Nor is the fact that I spent a few minutes reading articles on http://www.waxingunlyrical.com/ and learning a little more about you personally.

      Creating some semblance of an accurate measurement of influence across and throughout the Social Web is a daunting challenge. If any measurement of online influence is to be objective, it must grab sample data from throughout the global data ecosystem. It should not selectively sample data in places that are easy to access, in the handful of private clubs that only represent one side of the conversation.

  6. Linlin Wills says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Great article, benefited from reading about the limitations of Klout, Soovox.com as a late comer to the market ( about two years late), we have just launched SocialIQ.co in the recent SXSW 2011. When we started out late 2009, we did not know Klout existed. Admittedly, we must have been in the proverbial cave crunching out our algorithm and technology. Without preconceived notion from Klout, we had totally different approaches and perspectives toward measuring influence. Measuring across entire social web was a no brainer. We had it since day one. We had Trust theory from Chris Brogan’s Trust Agent, and Context of Influence from Malcolm Gradwell’s Tipping Point, the “Mavens, Connectors, and Sales Person”. To connect the dots, would you have a chance to check out http://SocialIQ.co/ and http://Soovox.com/ ?

    Your feedback is very welcomed, both good and bad,

    Thanks,

    Linlin

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