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Summary:

Users are outraged about changes that Klout has made to the way it calculates online influence, and some argue these scores are meaningless. But measuring “reputation rank” is clearly a huge potential market, and Klout is far from the only one interested in doing it.

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Klout, the San Francisco-based startup that is trying to build a Page Rank of online influence, has been taking a lot of fire from critics after making some changes to the way it calculates that influence — an algorithm update that resulted in lower Klout scores for many users. This led to howls of outrage on the company’s blog, as well as a number of posts arguing that Klout scores are effectively meaningless, since no one really knows how the score is calculated. While these criticisms may be well-founded, however, there is no question that measuring online influence is a huge potential market, and Klout is far from the only one doing it; Google, Twitter and Facebook clearly have their eyes on that prize as well.

In the official Klout blog post about the changes, CEO Joe Fernandez — who started the company in 2007 in New York, while he was bed-ridden after an operation on his jaw — said the service is always tweaking its algorithms to try to make them reflect actual online influence better, and that this latest change was designed to improve the “stability and accuracy of our scores.” He said the update was also aimed at making Klout’s sub-scores, which measure factors such as “reach” and “amplification,” more clear and easier to understand. For many of those commenting on the post, however, all that mattered was that their scores had dropped — in some cases by a lot.

Klout scores are being used by employers for hiring

One of the most popular comments said that Klout was used by some companies for job searches, as well as employee performance reviews and other similar purposes, and that the company’s changes could affect people’s livelihood:

By changing the entire scoring system for the basic Klout score, you have damaged many people’s employment viability and impacted their earning potential – particularly in the nascent field of Social Media roles.

That wasn’t the only negative response — just one of the more coherent. On Wednesday evening, Twitter was filled with angry posts about the changes as well, along with sarcastic messages from some about how their pets had higher Klout scores than their employers (at one point a hashtag called #OccupyKlout even started up, and retweeted some of the most critical posts). Klout CEO Fernandez, who was at a conference in Ireland, responded to many of the criticisms by saying the update was necessary, and that most of the scores for people in the company — including him — also declined as a result of the update. Later in the evening, he added:

Others, however, seemed to agree with a post at TechCrunch, which argued that “nobody gives a damn about your Klout score” and compared it to a horoscope. Many pointed out that it’s impossible to tell what the scores are based on because Klout keeps its algorithms secret — which the company says it does for competitive reasons, since other services like PeerIndex and Kred are trying to do something similar (Fernandez said that Klout’s data set is “orders of magnitude larger” than any of his competitors). And some critics argued that the only people who care are self-appointed “social-media mavens” who make their living by trying to convince people that Twitter matters.

Klout is “an indispensable part of the ecosystem,” Twitter says

While it may be true that those affected by Klout scores are primarily social-media consultants, there’s no question that the goal of measuring influence online is one that some major players also have their sights on. Ryan Sarver, the head of platform for Twitter, spent part of Wednesday night arguing with a number of people about the value of what Klout is doing, and said that “regardless of how you feel about Klout, it has become an indispensable part of the ecosystem,” and that “online reputation is going to be enormous.”

Twitter is definitely interested in this area; founder and former CEO Evan Williams has said that the network has its own internal “reputation rank” system, although it has not revealed anything about it so far or made it available to partners. If Klout can base its rankings on Twitter activity (it also looks at Facebook, Google+ and a number of other networks), there’s no question that Twitter itself could do the same fairly easily. And Google is aiming at a similar goal with its Google+ network, which it plans to incorporate into everything the company touches; the way users add +1 to search results and other behavior seems clearly designed to come up with a social-search ranking system.

The days when people get compensated based on their Klout score or some other ranking of social activity — as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff discussed at a GigaOM conference last year — may be far off, but there is a multibillion-dollar advertising and marketing machine that is trying to figure out how to measure online influence, and Klout is a major player in that race. Whether it can become the default measurement platform remains to be seen, but this isn’t a race that is going to end any time soon. In the meantime, embedded below is an amusing video that Xtranormal did in which someone tries to describe why they want a higher Klout score:

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Danny Cain and Refracted Moments

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  1. The people I’ve talked with don’t say that Klout is meaningless because of its opacity. They say that it’s meaningless because each of these updates renders all previous historical data null and void. A score of “50” from a month ago is not the same as a “50” today. So ANY metrics about trending, patterns, etc. are all void. And that’s frustrating. For people who give a Klout.

  2. Funny! When I raised these issues a few weeks ago no one in the main stream media bothered to cover it.

    http://www.elevatelocal.co.uk/blog/gaming-klout-second-casestudy-24094896

  3. Mathew, we needed more “opinion” from you! Not just coverage of what others are saying…

    Nevertheless, I do believe online reputation is becoming more and more central to our web presence today, however I don’t think Klout is the answer. They have a long way to go both in terms of their algorithm and business model. PeerIndex seems to be tracking better imo, with more progressive mechanisms.

    I think this is a huge opportunity for Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the interweb titans. They are in the best positions to paint and accurate picture of a person’s “reputation” while remaining cautious of privacy.

    1. Thanks, Amrita :-) I don’t really have an opinion about who is better at this point — I do think that measuring influence is something worth doing, and that Klout and PeerIndex both have valuable approaches, and likely Twitter and Google and Facebook will too. Plenty of baseball left to play.

  4. My klout score is atleast 11 or is it 12 now ive written this.

  5. A fantastic read! I enjoyed the post a lot. I’m sure now everyone realizes that online reputation is going to be an interesting factor. But if there will be too many players then the question will remain that where should a person go. I think it’ll be about.me that’ll win in the end :D

  6. Once upon a Trend: The reliability of Klout
    October 26, some italian users (digital natives) have decided to test the Klout system by running the #ktrain http://www.searcheeze.com/it/view/4ea9185ed57a053fb9000001

  7. One place where Klout does have a major impact on earning power is the mom blog community. Like it or not, brands use Klout scores to determine whether a mom has enough, well, clout, to profitably hawk their wares. So a plummeting Klout score is majorly detrimental. As such, I was angry when mine tanked – enough, in fact, to unlink all my accounts all together. For a more detailed look at the mom blogger perspective, check out CecilyK’s post on MomCrunch.

  8. MARK JANZ-ARMSTRONG Friday, October 28, 2011

    For the Haters posting here it is always a SIMPLE choice in the digital world… You are either a 1 or a 0 (zero) And, if you want CLOUT-GET KLOUT. If you are too busy to spend time learning how to “drive” that Model and how to read the reports to get a snapshot of how a particular marketing strategy can be tweaked thanks to the Geek Geniuses from Klout. Keep building your “Hot Rod” while my souped up jalopy blows your doors off. Have a great vweekend. Step away from the keyboard and go get some FUN-in-the-SUN and then sign up for inside tips on how to Rule Klout and other goodies I have for you. http://TheRealNegotiator.com

  9. Mark@Make Them Click Friday, October 28, 2011

    What Klout doesn’t measure:

    Linkedin
    Blogging
    Comments on other blogs
    Stumblupon
    Diggit
    Reddit
    Quora
    and just about every other social media activity except Facebook.

    How can it have any relevance or credibility?

  10. I think that Klout is fine if you are a person who is influential in the media world but for 99% of the population (forgive the Occupy Wall St ref) this doesn’t matter as I truly only care about what people think within my own social networks. I have a site called Cliqsearch.com and we care about influential people in media in order to get coverage but the greatest benefit to our consumers and businesses, products and places that are on our site is to identify those ‘normal’ people who are the biggest influencers. My friend who has been to a restaurant or used a local service such as a contractor is infinitely more valuable to me than Robert Scoble suggesting the same thing.
    I haven’t crunched the numbers but for the <1% of major influencers out there, how many people do they truly influence vs the influence that comes from their close ties in their social networks? My guess is that ultimately the opinion of the <1% doesn't influence much (lest say people such as Steve Jobs).
    Interested in your thoughts.

  11. Klout seems to measure your day-to-day social footprint rather than true influence. A week-long trip during which you don’t tweet sinks your score by nearly 20 points, and one busy tweeting day after that raises it by 9 points. I’m having a hard time believing that is a sign of measuring true “influence”.

  12. I don’t see how companies can place a lot of value on a service that continuously changes. If everytime Klout changes its algorithm some users have declining Klout scores, how does it make the platform a reliable source of ranking influence? Perhaps if Klout added smaller changes and explained the need to make these changes (outside of a “this makes the score better” explanation), it would be more reliable and hence, useful.

  13. Steven Pofcher Monday, October 31, 2011

    Luv the video. Klout goes around and around. I want a high Klout score to get a high Klout score and oh yes, free water.

  14. Deborah A. Sullivan Monday, October 31, 2011

    I for one would appreciate it if you take the time to tell us exactly WHAT rises the Klout score.
    ~Debbie:)

  15. It’s evil. The Klout system of attaching a single number to your or my “social influence” is like building a grading system for “beauty” or “talent.” It’s wrong and you should stop right now, go to http://www.klout.com and delete your profile. Do not be part of the problem. A more thorough explanation is on my blog http://www.take5interactive.com or you can read it on Social Media Today’s site. Stop these people before they become a de facto standard for something which cannot–and should not–be quantified into a single, public number, then sold to advertisers. It’s ethically wrong, not mathematically wrong.

  16. Rajesh Soundararajan Monday, November 28, 2011

    Klout scores – does it matter? Well I an not complaining. http://t.co/wNO5RPfe

  17. Did the Klout shakeup hurt your career? http://t.co/hkytPxfO

  18. Should you care about Klout? I know Haters are Gonna Hate but I still like it.. http://t.co/BC9Kg7dK

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