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As the race continues to find a reliable way of measuring influence in social networks and the so-called “reputation graph,” Klout — one of the front-runners in that business, along with competitor PeerIndex — has launched an extension for Google’s Chrome browser (s goog) that lets you see the Klout score of all the people you follow on Twitter when you go to the Twitter.com website. But is that a good thing? It certainly is if you like to keep score of how you stack up against your friends and followers — and plenty of people love to do just that, even if the score is based on something they don’t really understand. But at least for now, the Klout score is still something of a blunt instrument, without enough knowledge about the people it’s ranking to make it a must-have piece of the new reputation graph.
The company’s new Chrome extension, which came out of an internal hackathon, puts a big orange “K” symbol and a score right next to the name of the people in your stream on the Twitter website. You can achieve the same thing with other browsers as well, and if you use the Seesmic social-network platform, you can also install an extension that adds the Klout rank to your Twitter stream.
After I installed the Chrome extension, I caught myself — almost subconsciously — thinking as I watched the tweet-stream flow by: “Wow — he’s only a 61? I thought he would be more,” and “Holy cow, he’s a 72!” and so on.
At first, Klout was based solely on Twitter and a number of metrics about your activity, including the number of followers and the amount of interaction your tweets get (re-tweets, etc.) as well as the influence rank of the people who are interacting with you. More recently, Klout also added the ability to connect your Facebook account, and the company says it plans to add more social networks soon. Founder and CEO Joe Fernandez says the company will soon be adding a list of all the different rewards that a Klout score can get you, like favorable discounts at the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The company says it has even heard of Klout scores being raised in job interviews.
What I noticed as I was watching my stream flow by, however, was just how little correlation there was between the Klout ranking of the people I follow and their actual value to me. Some people who I find regularly post thoughtful and useful links or comments — such as Hunch.com founder Chris Dixon (Klout score: 65), or Naval Ravikant, co-founder of the AngelList and an influential member of the venture capital community (Klout score: 58), or Betaworks CEO John Borthwick (Klout score: 55) had much lower scores than others in my stream who don’t post as much that is worthwhile.
I assume that the reason for these scores is that users like Dixon and Ravikant and Borthwick don’t have enough followers — and don’t generate enough interactivity from those followers — to get a higher rank.
Unfortunately for Klout, value is a very fluid concept, and measuring activity and re-tweets and followers may make a guy like Justin Bieber look good (his Klout score is a perfect 100), but it doesn’t really get at what makes a Twitter user valuable — at least not for me. In that sense, the score is a little like Google’s Page Rank: It measures the quality of a page, theoretically, but is also open to gaming and SEO and all sorts of other tricks, and sometimes it confuses popularity with value.
Which is why there’s still a lot of work to do in producing some kind of reliable measurement of value in a social network or reputation graph, and why it’s problematic to start talking about things like paying people based on their ranking within such a network, an idea floated last year at Net:Work by Salesforce.com (s crm) CEO Marc Benioff.
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