Social influence tracker Klout recently updated its model for computing users’ numerical “Klout Score,” now using a much broader range of variables. This revamping of its core service is in response to the battering the startup’s own reputation has taken over the past couple of years.
When it launched in 2009, Klout measured only the influence of Twitter users. With its simple and straightforward equation, it was a useful tool with a narrow focus. As it expanded to account for platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, however, Klout’s computations became more opaque. When it overhauled its algorithm in 2011, that opacity sparked an uproar, including dramatic post titles like “Why I Deleted My Klout Profile,” “The TRUTH About Your Klout Score: How Your Phony Number Is Calculated,” and even “Why Klout scores are possibly evil.” Beneath such ominous headlines, critics weighed in with more specific complaints. Business Insider bluntly lamented that “No one can figure out how the scores are calculated” and pointed out that the highest score belonged to teen pop idol Justin Bieber. Social Media Today also slammed Klout, noting privacy issues such as the automatic creation of accounts for minors.
With competitors like Kred, PeerIndex and Identified now vying to provide more perfect alternatives, Klout’s latest revision is a crucial upgrade for both its method of rating users and its own position as a pioneer in the bourgeoning reputation economy. Co-founder and CEO Joe Fernandez explains that the incorporation of Wikipedia adds “a significant indicator of one’s ability to drive action in the real world,” and PC World notes that that new variable “boosted Barack Obama’s score from 94 to 99,” which now ranks him as more influential than Bieber. The new version will also highlight specific “moments” that have boosted one’s score while nixing “the one-word categorizations Klout assigned to each user,” TIME says. The result is what Fernandez describes as a “social resume” that is “less about judging someone with a number and more about capturing what kind of person they are online,” according to TechCrunch.
Last year TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans highlighted the important distinction that Klout was aiming to gauge influence, not “the complex nuances of ‘reputation,’” but these new developments suggest that the startup is may be moving toward something more like the “reputation dashboard” imagined by Rachel Botsman. The new Klout has also been lauded as a “Huge Step Toward Transparency” and “A Warmer, Fuzzier Bottom Line on Your Online Reputation.”
“People are drawn to quantitative methods because scores are easy to understand,” Paul Gillin wrote on his website. “The downside of reducing influence to a number, though, is oversimplification.” Gillin attributed that flaw to Klout’s quantitative metrics: “The thinking is that influence isn’t a matter of how much you say as much as the impact your words have on others.” Chris Voss was a tad more incisive, wisely emphasizing that people should be focusing on the actual content that they are creating rather than worrying about “some imperfect score.”
At the moment, individuals that are interested in more actively managing their reputation will find it worthwhile to check in on Klout. But the service hasn’t reached its final form yet, and we will be watching how it attempts to realize what seem to be fairly grand ambitions.