For the past week, I’ve been grousing over Michael Arrington’s sudden about-face in regards to the website Klout. For years now, Arrington has been happy to relegate Klout to the pile of irrelevance, and I was in agreement with him. But then he released this blog post last week that not only says he “likes” Klout now, but he’s also invested in the company. I lamented so much that I spent 20 minutes complaining about it on last Saturday’s show. I then called into Michelle Ray’s show last night and lamented again.
The reason is this, and it’s a simple one: Klout cannot determine whether tweets are “good” or not, and a lot of people seem to get the idea that it can. The service claims to measure how much influence you have, but all it really does is measure how many people reply to you on a social network site.
Users might think that a high Klout score means that they’re important or influential or that they say really good things, but all it really means is that people respond to them on sites like Twitter and Facebook. And in a lot of ways, it rewards bad behavior.
Don’t believe me? Below is the Klout score of a notorious (and some would say racist) troll on Twitter. This is a man who has a relatively small number of followers, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks he contributes anything “good” to Twittter, but he has a higher score than most people I follow, and it’s only ten points off of the highest scored Conservative tweeters I know. He did this by insulting pretty much anyone he comes across and watching his Klout score climb as they respond to his vitriol. It’s just that easy.
This is not to say that the only way to attain a high Klout score is to spam and insult people; there are plenty of good folks on social media who contribute good things and are rewarded everyday, but it is dangerous, if not reckless to conflate high(er) Klout scores with good tweeting, or even good behavior. We have to use our brains and try to keep track of the worthwhile tweeters, ourselves. We can’t just assume that high scores equal good contributors.
It’s not just trolls you have to consider, either. Another reason that Klout can’t be trusted as the end all be all and arbiter of who is a good tweeter is that it has no way of knowing which tweeters have been blacklisted. I discussed blacklisting of tweeters on Saturday’s show, but I can offer some examples here too.
Simply put, when well known or influential tweeters want to shut down someone they see as a rival, they often put out ultimatums to their followers to not retweet, follow, or reply to certain people. While I primarily spend time in Conservative circles on Twitter, it’s not just politics where this happens. Just today, I saw a comedian discussing how comedians put the same kind of pressure on people in their circles to freeze rival comedians out. I’m sure this takes place in plenty of demographics on social media, but Klout has no way of knowing when this has happened to someone. As such, Klout can never be trusted as a tool to point you to the “good” people on social media. It can only point you to who is “popular”. And a lot of people have become “popular” by either trolling or being manipulative. Again, a higher Klout score does not mean that the person or their content is any “good”.
So what do we do? Should we dismiss Klout altogether? That’s a tough question. Because even if Klout did perfectly determine who was providing good content, you’d be doing yourself, and everyone else, a disservice by using it to discriminate in favor of or against people based solely on a Klout score. In my gut, I feel that there could be good uses for a site like Klout, but when pressed to tell you some of what they might be, I come up empty. So, as things stand, I can’t recommend the use of Klout as tool for determining good tweeters or content, but I’m not ready to completely give up on the site either. My advice is to take Klout scores with a grain of salt, or better yet, a ten pound bag. We still have to determine where good content is coming from for ourselves.