the matter with metrics

Twitter is my personal canary in the coal mine of world events.

A coup? An outrage? A celebrity death? I miss nothing. Why, I have mourned the loss of leading figures before they themselves even heard they were dead (sorry ’bout that, Gordon Lightfoot.)

Yesterday, I heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth as soon as I opened my laptop after lunch.

Sometime around noon, Klout’s algorithm shifted. And revealed a great deal about itself – and us – in the process.

Klout defines influence as “the ability to drive action.” Klout claims to measure influence across social media platforms. It collects data on users’ engagement on Twitter, FB, G+, Flickr, etc., and collates those multiple analytics into a single, shifting number. You go up if you’re doing well, down if you’re losing influence. Or, say, if you spent a whole day offline. Merciful heavens.

Klout has been embraced as an objective third-party tool for business to tell which self-promoting social media gurus actually have real capacity and reach. It has also been embraced a pet hobby for bloggers intent on giving each other mischevious +K points on topics like “belching,” “Kansas City airports,” and “hairy backs.” It promotes that use less loudly in its press releases.

Klout claims to measure both reach – how many people you influence – and scale – how much you influence them. It also takes into account the influence of those you influence. Meaning, on the surface, if you engage with leaders in your community or corner of teh internets, you yourself are more likely to exert leadership influence.

If you’ve been in the habit of checking your Klout, you may have seen a change in your score yesterday. And if you had Klout anywhere above, oh, 55 or so, you may have seen a drop. Klout posted a graphic (scroll down here) to support their claim that the majority of users would see their score stay the same or go down, but a straw poll of the canaries tweeting out sturm und drang on my Twitter feed yesterday afternoon suggests that the people clipped hardest by the new algorithm were the ones best positioned to actually give a shit about Klout.

(Disclosure: I went from an all-time high of 64 to a 57. Pass the hankies.)

Last week I ended an academic presentation of social media with a screen capture of my Klout score at the time, tongue-in-cheek. Thank god. I’ll never see that number again.

But, as I noted on Twitter, showing it off to a non-social-media-using audience isn’t a whole lot different than bragging to them about that high score I got in Super Mario Brothers back in 1993. It, too, was still a lot lower than some friends’ scores. It was higher than others. What it gave me was a sense I was improving at a game I was trying to learn…which is pretty much what I think Klout is good for.

(Admittedly, the old algorithm could be gamed, and was skewed by random RTs by celebrities, for instance. It rewarded cliqueishness, and highly sociable people with access to established networks. However, while the new Klout claims to be more transparent, I don’t actually see the explanations of how my acts translate into data anywhere in my new Klout interface. I’d like to: for my thesis research, it’d be fascinating.)

But. The lack of transparency, however touted, is not the problem with Klout’s new algorithm.

Maybe Klout needs to become my new canary in the coal mine of social media. Because the problem is bigger than Klout, and it is threefold.

1. We are beginning to buy into what we think our Klout tells us about ourselves.

Social media practices are identity practices, particularly on networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook (the prime sources of Klout data). Many of us put a lot of time into social media, and are aware that our expertise has growing cultural capital. People have learned to care about their Klout. For some, it’s a very real calling card for very real money. For others, it’s one of the few reflections available of whether we’re succeeding in a varied game in which there are no maps. Even if we watch it tongue-in-cheek, clearly a lot of us watch it.

This accords power and veracity to the metric.

Now, social media has always involved metrics: comments, Technorati, numbers of Twitter followers. But, for the most part, if one desired to increase those numbers, the path was relatively straightforward: one engaged more. Klout, with its complex algorithm drawn from big data that judges our most mundane interactions, is different. It’s not only measuring us, it’s assessing us. It’s designed on behaviourist principles, with rewards and virtual pats on the head when we – ratlike, often not entirely sure what we did to warrant the praise – succeed on the terms its algorithm values, and framing losses in score with banners that proclaim “Oh no! Your life is over Klout has fallen -1 in the past 2 days!”

We are highly conditionable beings. Klout is conditioning us to care about Klout, and to value ourselves – in this identity economy of social media – in terms of it. Which one could argue we’ve been doing ever since 2001, when Joe next door got more blog comments than we did and we cried in our beer and felt small and alone, but. It’s not the same. Because not all engagement is created equal, in Klout.

2. We’re being influenced by our own “influence.”

Used to be, if you happened to be someone who valued the metric of comments, a comment was more or less a comment. Yes, a comment from a blogger of known scale could feel somewhat a visitation from the archangels, but at the end of the day, the comments added up and like votes, each counted (if you were counting).

Relationally, the comment from a famous blogger might be an avenue to connection and networks that might ultimately serve some strategic purpose, but use value can’t really drive relationships in a one person-one vote economy.

Klout, though, works to devalue the nature of many social media communities, particularly those whose networks and relationships aren’t based entirely in use value. Some animals are more equal than others. In new Klout, I now get notices along the bottom of my screen about which contacts have gone down in score recently: in case I want to dump them, I assume, like dead weight. Bye, Mom! It’s all business.

Social media wasn’t supposed to be all business, especially business as usual. Social media is, uh, social. And relational: it’s a form of augmented reality, a network for all sorts of purposes, well beyond use-value networking.

But because Klout rewards use-value networking over other forms of engagement, it fosters an increasingly use-value environment. In Klout, it matters a lot more if you get a famous person to click your link or RT your content, especially if that person doesn’t regularly engage in clicking or RTing or sharing or whatnot. This makes some sense, in terms of assessing influence. But IT ALSO AFFECTS BEHAVIOURS.

The peer-to-peer relationality of social media – already grappling with a relatively new breed of user whose sole goal is building platform as a path to old guard institutional or corporate success – is undermined by the kind of behaviour that cultivates status over relationships. Status is part of the game. But when it becomes the whole game, the broad, rhizomatic networks get boxed in and wither, and then we’re back to something a lot less interesting than social media. And like the new Google Reader, a lot less social.

Yes, there is a pattern here. We are gradually being directed away from sociality and towards business-like behaviours by the business interests that design and profit from the platforms we use.

Social media, which was once a bit of a rogue blowing smoke at the establishment, is being taken in hand and given a tie and a briefcase. We’re like the rebel who’s been told s/he got the highest mark on a class test: we suddenly don’t know what to do with ourselves.

The problem: the test was rigged. And will always be rigged.

3. We’re allowing a metric to do a human’s job.

I’m not saying Klout isn’t trying, in terms of assessing influence and engagement fairly. The problem is, it can’t.

Klout today claims that I am as influential as Her Bad Mother. HA. Klout also puts me two points ahead of Finslippy and three ahead of George Siemens. If I buy that, I’m ON SOMETHING.

My influence and reach and social media fame and probably my throw to third base are all somewhat more modest than those three. My Klout score ultimately reflects that I’m frittering away more time on Twitter than they are, as they’re too busy with jobs or book tours or speaking engagements.

Because their actual influence – their name recognition within their respective fields, their public profile, their contacts, their capacity to leverage social media influence into dollars – is, in each case, greater than mine. That doesn’t negate mine, or anything. But just because Klout says I have equal influence doesn’t make it so.

Klout attempts to create an objective representation of something that is complex and subjective beyond the capacity of any algorithm to capture.

It appears that a lot of business interests have bought into the idea of Klout as a marvellous, miraculous objective third party observer, collating all the variables and doing the dirty work of sorting out for them who matters.  But just because scoring is helpful in a competitive neoliberal economy – “crucial,” even, according to the author linked above – doesn’t mean it’s actually valid. Or even possible.

All algorithms and metrics are products of their design. They are rigid, no matter how flexible and complex, and they cannot make exceptions or comprehend the subtleties of human relational interaction based solely on numbers, no matter how many numbers they use.

Influence is a relational measurement. It is a human measurement. Like intelligence and learning all the other things we stupidly insist we can measure, simple because we NEED effective comparisons, influence exceeds our grasp.

We may need to understand how to compare apples and oranges. It doesn’t mean we can, especially with mere numbers. This is true in education, and this is true in human relations and influence.

And while the game of seeing how we measure up may be entertaining, it’s only valuable if one is embedded enough in the relational networks it claims to assess to know when to take it with a grain of salt. Liz Gumbinner at Mom 101 wrote an exceptional post about this last month, giving thanks for savvy PR people and corporations who recognize good writing when they see it, who understand that this game is more than numbers.

I’d like to see more of them. I don’t wish my Klout canary in the coal mine of social media dead, but I’d like it seen for what it is: a decorative little bird, useful for entertaining and reflecting back the notes one is, uh, tweeting. NOT the measure of value in social media.

We need to stop handing over so much power to metrics. They have a place. But it’s THEIR use-value we need to assess, not the other way around.

47 Comments the matter with metrics

  1. Hannah

    The Klout thing cracks me up. I did sign up, because I didn’t know what it was and signing up was really the best way to find out. My score has gone all the way up to 50 (!) and is currently sitting at 44.

    Yesterday, the biggest thing that changed for me was that I ‘lost influence’ with some of my Twitter followers. Including my husband, which frankly cracked me up.

    I don’t put any credence in it. It’s a funny tool, that’s all. I’m amused to see what topics I’m supposedly influential in. I can’t imagine it ever having a practical application.

    1. bon

      that’s the thing, though: i don’t *think* it has a particularly practical application but holy cats, some people do and are basing their hiring on it. which then impacts the behaviour of all those who wish to be hired. which is a broad enough group that *that*, in turn, begins to impact the etiquette governing behaviours on social media, which we all gradually pick up on. that’s how shifts occur. and all from something that’s an entirely ephemeral number.

      mind you, i suppose money is kind of an ephemeral number, too, that we’ve all just agreed to give credence to.

      1. Hannah

        See, and this is what I mean when I say I feel like I’m letting down the side. I had no idea – until I read this – that people are basing hiring decisions on Klout. That’s… horrible. But what is the solution? By having a Klout account – even just to laugh at the fact that the topic I am most influential in is “money”, hilarious because I have none – am I unconsciously legitimizing the process?

        (Not trying to hijack your smart-lady blog, BTW. I’m honestly curious about this.)

        1. schmutzie

          The thing is that you have a Klout score based on your Twitter account whether you sign up or not. The only way to fully opt out of Klout is to delete your Twitter account, as far as I know.

  2. magpie

    I’m totally in the mischievous +K hobby department, with a decided preference for foodstuffs.

    Klout is asinine, in my opinion.

    Then again, I just do what I do.

    1. bon

      we learn it in schools! oh yes, we do! but like i said on Twitter, Will, even schools are influenced in their turn by the masculinist neurosis about measurements. ;)

      i really don’t think we can validate the ineffable. don’t think we can get schools to teach that, though.

  3. Mel Gallant

    I like this statement you make:

    “What it [Super Mario Brothers score] gave me was a sense I was improving at a game I was trying to learn…which is pretty much what I think Klout is good for.”

    Klout and other tools that measure ‘social media influence’ – like Crowdbooster and Peer Review – need to be taken with a grain of salt. True measure of influence is the quality of the conversations you have with your followers/fans/etc. End story. :)

    1. bon

      …i’m inclined to agree, but i recognize that lots of people are in social media for more than conversations. which is cool. i think there’s space for both but business logic has a tendency to undermine everything else in an ecology. hence my concern.

      thanks, Mel, for the comment: nice to *meet* you.

    1. bon

      million dollar question, Pam.

      easy answer: we allow it to.

      but why? always looking for reflections to tell us we count?

      thanks for your comment…hi. :)

  4. Rufus Dogg

    I sometimes throw out a number on web analytics to a group and usually someone says, “Is that good??” (usually the answer is either yes or hell, yes) which reminds me that most people do not live in this digital world. MOST people do not.

    My mailman has more clout than anyone on klout because he delivers checks to my mailbox yet he is not online the entire day. (Pretty sure his Klout score blows). But Klout has no way to measure that, so it pretends like that is not influence.

    My biggest angst is that Klout will become like FICO where the score is used for everything from credit-worthiness to your ability to hold a job to what your car insurance rate should be to your ability to serve in the military. Had we seen the death-grip FICO has now over us all, we might have been less willing to embrace a “single score (3 but still)” approach to credit. (Though I wonder why FICO is not anywhere near the #occupy narrative… puzzling)

    Big media is so lazy and stupid that they proudly and blithely carry the water for Klout. Klout knows it and is banking on our penchant for sloth. And we’ll all march in line eventually and wake up one day finding our ability to access certain online services all queued up behind a velvet rope, ranked by Klout Score.

    1. bon

      you write better dystopia than me, Mr. Dogg. nodding. more or less, yep. exactly. we need to be judging the metrics carefully and considering what we want them for…not just submitting ourselves to their judgement.

  5. David Banks

    Awesome post.

    I’ve noticed a steep decline in my Klout scores every since I got involved with the #OWS movement. I would just leave it at correlation, not causation, but I have increased my followers, retweets, friends, everything, and my score is a going down at an exponential rate. (Its even worse with the new algorithm, but it was bad before.) Several others have reported similar results. While I doubt there’s some kind of social media cabal that is threatening populist movements, I still think its fishy.

    1. bon


      trying to wrap my mind around that. i wonder if #OWS ends up being a relatively closed community? is that possible? shaking head.

  6. Neil

    While I completely agree with your take on all this, I’m not very hopeful that there is any system that won’t be gamed. Once anything turns into a system of power and influence, that’s just how things work.

    While it is nice to want a world where talent is rewarded, and “the cream rises to the top,” we usually forget that there is a lot of jockeying for position and gaming in that world as well. Does anyone really think that those Babble lists represent the best of the thousands and thousands of mothers online? Bring in different editors with different friends, and you will have different choices.

    Frankly, I am a big supportive of the fake klout awards for such nonsense as “hot dogs” and “hairy backs.” I find a delegitimization of the metrics a good example of where humor can be as radical a force as marching in the street. There is no reason any of us has to accept any of this seriously, and the less we do, the less power we give this third party.

    1. bon

      totally agree about the delegitimization. i want Klout in Bowie like nobody’s business. and i’m not very hopeful about there being an ungameable system, either. rather, that’s why i like the openness and weedy, organic, rhizomatic possibilities of social media. i’m not trying to hearken back to a time before branding, b/c it’s impossible. just trying to talk about what i think we need to try to hold on to and emphasize, in our practices here.

    2. Rufus Dogg

      I tried delegitimizing the patient medical forms yesterday when I wrote “Hobo” under occupation. Apparently it is a serious question. Who knew?

      And sh*t also floats so it’s not always the cream that rises. The minute someone creates a scoring or compensation system, someone is already gaming it. Kinda sad…

      1. bon

        oooh. i had fun trying to delegitimize silly Chinese customs forms years ago (a bunch of us flew to Shanghai for a holiday, and in the “your purpose” box i wrote “to rule the world.”

        ahem. who knew they’d read so carefully? and be so testy?

  7. Mom101

    If people are wondering when we can stop talking about Klout already, this is a good time. You’ve said everything that needs to be said, perfectly.

    What I value is authenticity. Passion. Good conversation. Great stories. If those online types who deliver such things have scores of 10 or scores of 600 million thousands (my four year old’s favorite number) I’m be there reading. And, if I have the time, commenting.

    1. bon

      i value those things too. still trying to figure out the most effective way to counter the impact of something like Klout. i see it as a colonizing influence, shaping us to see ourselves in terms of numbers. countering with comments is good and hugely bolstering but i still don’t know that it gets at the heart of our submission to that colonization. i dunno.

      600 million thousands is a good number. ;)

  8. Cloud

    I followed a link Mom101 posted over here. Does that increase her klout? Probably not much, because in social media land, I’m small potatoes.

    Anyway, what I wonder is- how much of this big businessification of social media is our own fault? We all expect all of our web activities to be free. We don’t pay for Facebook, the various things Google provides, Twitter, the blog posts we read… none of it. It is all free to us. But people are spending their time and effort creating not just the content but the platforms upon which that content is shared. And many (maybe even most) of those people will rightfully expect to be paid for the their efforts. If we, the consumers, won’t pay them- and we won’t- then they have to turn elsewhere, i.e., to businesses who see the value in using these things to increase their market share. Which will inevitably lead to people changing their products (be it blog posts, Klout algorithms, or Facebook privacy policies) to better serve the businesses, because they are the audience that is paying the bills.

    And with so may people block ads, businesses are often going to want to do more than just buy ad space, so we see the growth of other creative ways to deliver their content to us or extract value from us (e.g., by aggregating and selling usage data).

    Of course, it is tricky- if a platform or a blogger panders too much to business, they will lose the currency business cares about (i.e., user base/readers). But for many platform companies and, yes, many bloggers, those users or readers are just a path to the dollars from the businesses, and we’d do well to remember that.

    1. bon

      nodding. we seem to have sold all the possibilities of open source for the falsely free proprietary platforms of advertising. goody.

      thanks for coming over from Mom101’s link…and for being in the conversation, Cloud. :)

  9. Nan | wrathofmom

    Another great post, Bon. I love your writing style. You always manage to strike a conversational, approachable tone regardless of how serious or deep the topic.

    Until yesterday I was unaware that people were taking Klout seriously (I’m so naive). After reading about the changes via twitter, I decided to close my account, but it’s not possible. The only stop-gap measure is to go to your twitter account, and under the application tab “revoke” Klout’s access to your profile data. Geez — even the Dread Vile Facebook lets users delete their accounts.

  10. Juli

    Yes, I’d also like to see more from Klout about the algorithm that they use to measure “influence” online. It’s fascinating–and disturbing. I really don’t like how Klout pits us all against each other–as you said so well in this piece, like rats in a maze. And increasingly, this arbitrary number is used by others to judge our worthiness online–for business, employment, relationships.

  11. Pingback: Clouting Klout « Career. Food. Environment. Stuff.

  12. JoVE

    So I signed up because they were offering free Moo cards but then suffered from decision paralysis and didn’t order said free cards. I’m not sure what that says about Klout or my regard for this kind of metric.

    I like your analysis. I also think the twitter version might be “Klout suffers from some good old validity and reliability problems”.

    I’m assuming readers of this blog have taken at least one methodology class and will understand what I mean but it looks like it is neither a valid measure (it may not be measuring what we think it does) nor is it reliable (the same behaviour may yield different scores on different days).

    I could be persuaded to engage in humourous +K giving though. :-)

  13. Udo K (with no + or -)

    Very nice post Bonnie. It touches so well on the zeitgeist of our times. In that sense, while I wholly agree with what you wrote, I would suggest it is part of a wider social phenomenon. In particular, we, as a society, are becoming increasingly bedazzled by quantification of any sort. Qualitative is not just other anymore, but Other.

    The trend has been around for a while, to be sure. Foucault locates it squarely on the back of the Birth of the Statistician.

    Perhaps one rhizomatic way do deal with it all is to grow around the arboresence, leaving it to rot from within. In other words, ignore it. I’ve never been on the Klout site, let alone signed up. I have no interest. As you intimate, what matters more is the form and content of a comment, not the number of them. As a society we seem to have forgotten that metrics are a subset of measures, not the reverse.

    As Schroedinger might have said, The measure of a wo/man/cyborg is not counting or being counted, but through what counts.

    1. bon

      i sat in a presentation at AEC this morning, Udo, about the reductionist way in which PEI literacy curriculum focuses more or less on kids’ levels and little else. and i thought, yep, metrics. right from kindergarten. no wonder we’re so conditioned to tie our self-worth to Klout. ;)

      by the way, bad news. you may not have been to Klout, but you do indeed still have some: Klout happened to showcase you to me when i logged in just now. it can hear you, obviously. the data exist, and they are judging you by it. (i won’t attach your numeric label to you if you do not wish, however: sometimes knowing can impact one’s sense of oneself. Wendy’s a 45, though. hee.)

      1. Udo K

        Thanks Bonnie. Ah yes. I know Klout knows about me. I’m sure the score is modest at best. In a world of chest-beating I like modest. Modesty has gone from being a virtue to a vice. I understand the shift. I just can’t buy into it. In a world looking for Klout, I’m happy with kraut.

  14. Daleus

    Great analysis Bon and one that should be spread far and wide.

    I noticed peeps on Twitter talking about Klout one day and followed a link. I am more newb than you in social media and so I follow every path down every rabbit hole.

    So far in my social media life, I have been a repeater station – little original content generated, lots of really good content passed on to others. Frankly, I’m fine with that – most of my social media peers are newbs too and becasue I am nmore dexterous with the technology, I get to take the lead for a lot of folks.

    So I was pretty amazed that I had a score at all! Even more amazed when my score increased almost ten points during the recent Klout revamp.

    Because I know what a rotten engager I am at this moment (two weeks of blogging with 2 comments total?) I found it hilarious that my apparently artificially pumped up score could be audacious enough to pump up some more, in the face of truly artistic bloggers like @bonstewart and @boydjane.

    Ultimately, I love your assessment that we’re turning over to algorithms what has traditionally been the human province. Hell I see that all the time in technology – people running like droves of lemmings toward a magic black box that is going to solve their every worry.

    For me, Klout is a bit of entertainment and very much a canary in the social media mines. When it goes up or down, I can review what I might have done right or wrong recently. If I delve even deeper into Klout scores (the word score should have been a tip off right from the start) I suspect I’ll get some good pointers to other peeps I should follow.

    As a number, it is just that.

    So, here is to indicators, trend pointers and the peaks and valleys of social media. However, I’ll bet good money my inner voice gets a better score than Klout.

    1. bon

      lol…Dale, i must’ve missed that you were blogging, but let me tell you…i blogged nearly a year before i got more than two comments. so you’re doing GREAT. (i know, i know, comments are a metric too. but they’re my metric of choice).

      i’ll bet good money on your inner voice being better than Klout too.

  15. Andrea

    I have a klout score? Good lord. Please no one tell me what it is, I’ve managed to keep myself happily ignorant of the whole thing.

    I agree w/ your post. They are conditioning their users, absolutely, to care about the things they care about by scoring them on it. Just like I condition Frances to care about the state of her bedroom floor when I give her a hug for cleaning it up.

    So my question is: what are they conditioning people to care about? At the risk of sounding like a cantankerous anti-consumerist freak … oh, hell, I crossed that bridge ages ago. I’ll just charge ahead:

    They’re conditioning people to engage in the behaviours that drive consumer spending. Because clearly what they are measuring is not influence. Reporter A writes a column that 500 people like & tweet about, it gets retweeted to the nth degree and everyone loves it. She gets no klout, the tweeters who get retweeted get some, and it affects NOTHING–nothing in the offline world–except to encourage people on twitter to tweet stuff that will get retweeted by as many other people as possible (aka lowest common denominator). Two years from now, Reporter A’s column is used by a new politician as the basis for a new policy that creates 500 jobs … umm … no klout.

    But Twitter User B who follows Tide and is constantly tweeting about coupons and giveaways will have a huge klout score.

    As I tweeted you, this metric would have given a score of 0 to Van Gogh because he influenced no one while he was alive. It won’t award a blogger any klout for writing a post that another blogger picks up on and then someone else posts to twitter six months later which then gets retweeted. It counts only direct chain of influence in immediate and measurable terms … in other words … Word Of Mouth Marketing.

    The immediacy of twitter & klout is of particular interest to marketers, of course, as no one is interested in one’s ability to influence purchase of a product six years from now, when it may no longer even be on the shelves, not to mention what’s the fun of waiting when by driving immediate consumer activity you get to be a direct part of ending life on earth as we know it?

    So I would say that even if you’re looking at your klout score as a way of measuring participating in something you value or getting better at a game you’re trying to learn (which is better than basing one’s self-worth on it, definitely), it’s still worth asking if this is the kind of clout you want. How do you want your words and actions to influence the world you live in?

    1. bon

      like i said on Twitter, Andrea, excellent point about time. and i mostly agree on the marketing bias…i want to dig into this more and think about what kinds of behaviour are privileged, and what kinds of practices and identities are assumed. i think Reporter A WOULD get Klout for the article so long as s/he had a Twitter presence/ID that was attached to the viral tweet: IF ppl follow etiquette, it would be.

      the only disagreement i have here is that yes, i definitely want to cultivate clout outside of Klout, but understanding this game for what it is is something different: the two aren’t mutually exclusive. :)

  16. nathan jurgenson

    wonderful post, bon!

    a few not-so-well-formed thoughts:

    1- people were already trying to judge, say, how good someone is at twitter. the uninformed person just looks at the number of followers, then they learn to take into account how many they follow, etc. without Klout, we use different metrics. if we are already being driven by how we are being scored by others (“looking glass self”), might we be at least a little better off with klout since it has more validity than, say, number of followers? said more simply, if metrics are the assumption, shouldnt they at least be good?

    2- i do not think Klout invented the market for social media influence scoring. WE invented that market; we need that metric. quantification, calculation and rationalization are not outside of sociality. we re not trading one for the other. instead, much of sociality is econometric, for better or worse (usually worse). Bourdieu taught us this well when moving the term “capital” outside of just money but into culture, tradition and social connections. Klout is putting this ugly tendency of humans right back in our faces.

    3- to your important question on how might Klout metrics drive behavior: if one acts too much in accordance to generating a higher Klout, then “we” will collectively be able to identify the profile as “too posed.” we already do this: the account with the boring professional profile picture, the stream filled with marketing buzzwords, the links to various “top 3 ways…”, “10 things…” stories and so on.

    too self-promotion-profile, too Klout-y = “too posed.” the fear is that Klout might turn sociality into Big Macs, produced in a calculable, predictable and efficient way. but “we”, collectively, do not want this. We highlight it and critique it. part of doing well on twitter is being yourself, having a unique voice or perspective, adding something new to the conversations you are a part of.

    I am not saying we do not “pose” on social media or that Klout does not influence us. we all do, and it probably does (or at least will). i think your point comes to life when we think about how we all are posing, but having to pass our fiction off as fact; klout or no klout. we do this on and offline. Klout at least forces the question: how can I make my Klout score go up without looking like I care about my klout score?

    1. bon

      …i don’t disagree that a lot of the performances of identity that Klout privileges and rewards might happen offline too, Nathan. and i like the question of how the pose in relation to Klout operates.

      but. here’s the thing: quantification, calculation, rationalization, and even the reductionism that usually follow are not outside of sociality, no. they’re rampant in how we’re socialized into education and our perceptions of ourselves and our capacities, for starters. and we do compare and rank and even use numbers for that.

      the difference with social media and with analytics is that a) social media peer-to-peer practices are shaped and limited by the proprietary platforms on which we socialize, and as the shift to metrics ramps up and the ROI lingo becomes commonplace, things happen to those spaces. look at the way Google Reader and RSS in general just got reamed in favour of the far less comment-friendly G+ +1 model. that will change practices and people’s quality of conversations within this social space. the ranking and emphasis on numbers leads to a dwindling of the free open spaces.

      and b) analytics can claim to be totalizing in a way that simpler metrics had difficulty doing. it wasn’t so hard to believe that a person’s Technorati ranking wasn’t all they were, because the simple (if misleading) quantity vs. quality binary circulates in pop culture. but we don’t have a strong cultural narrative around the limitations of algorithmic design, and in this age of neoliberalism, we are encouraged to believe numbers really can capture anything. so Klout carries clout that previous metrics – especially of performances of identity and sociality – really didn’t. i do think it shifts the game…i’m just not sure where to.

  17. John Whitfield

    I agree totally with this (came here via Salon). Klout, and its kin, have a spurious air of quantification and precision, but actually, by turning the narrative of our social lives into a number, they throw away most of what matters in the process. And I think it’s healthy to resist the commodification of the self that these metrics encourage. (And, just to self-promote for a second, I liked this post so much also wrote a post on my own blog fleshing these thoughts out.)

  18. Pingback: The complete and authoritative guide to social media | DogWalkBlog

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