Take Back Your Internet, Leave Klout

Nov 23, 2011 • Op-Ed
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Klout, PeerIndex, Kred, and even Empire Avenue [response from Empire Avenue] need to go away. These metrics-applications rely on our need to know our “value” and will only continue to perpetuate the dilution of online engagement. This is an open call to the people that use these services, or are simply indexed by them, to opt-out and delete your presence on Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex.

This may sound crazy, but there’s a valid reason for bashing this type of statistic. Here’s the breakdown:

The Inverted Logic Loop

Here’s how the Internet works, “If you post it, make it, and/or share it they will come.” It’s that easy. If whatever you make isn’t good or great, they won’t stay. So in order to have great results online you have to actually do something good or great.

Defining “Good” and “Great” are completely subjective to the audience you’re trying to reach, but for starters, the Internet should be filled with interesting, useful, intelligent, creative, helpful, informative, entertaining, or fun things. Start there, and you’ll probably come out ahead. If that’s too many options, pick one, such as “Informative”, and you have yourself a great foundation for building an online audience.

The inverted logic loop of Klout works like this, “If you use a social network and connect to the right people, and they reshare what you share, and so on, we’ll give you a biscuit.” So, basically, all you have to do is share stuff, you no longer have to make stuff, in fact, running your own site, self-hosted blog, or building an app in the app-store, really does nothing for you. What you actually need to do, according to Klout, is stop everything you’re actually doing. To get the most out of Klout, concentrate on micromanaging all your followers and connections to ensure you have a high reshare/replies ratio. Ignore everything outside of the sites Klout supports. If you’re diligent enough at not doing anything productive Klout will reward you with a treat!

Klout, essentially, makes no sense at all because if what you post is getting attention and people are talking about it, you already have results, those results are called “Pageviews” or “Revenue”. In no way, whatsoever, do you actually need Klout if what you’re doing actually works… unless all you’re doing is tweeting, posting to Facebook, or checking in on Foursquare. By definition, tweeting well, using Facebook to the fullest, or being the mayor of whatever on Foursquare doesn’t hold any actual value, unless you own Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare.

A Treat

This is, at the very least, embarrassing. Have you ever heard of Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs? Now, there are certainly far better suited psychology experiments out there that can explain why waving a dog-treat in front of people to get them to do things will work, but let’s just focus on the need to feel like you’ve achieved something.

When you do X and in return you get Y, you feel a sense of accomplishment, your ego’s been stroked, and you come out feeling like a winner. Only problem is, with Klout, doing X means you sent a tweet and it got retweeted, and the Y in return is going from 49 Klout to 50! Since Klout knows this isn’t really a sustainable business, they’ve done a clever job at making partnerships with powerful allies, like Audi, Microsoft, and MooCards to give you free stuff because you get comments on your Facebook posts.

Sounds great, right? That means all you have to do is go buck-wild and crazy on top of the social network mechanical bull to make ends meet! You can score phones, get weeks with new cars, and go to parties; you’ll be the talk of the Klout-town, all for just checking in to your toilet whenever you venture to the restroom.

Dilution via Inverted Logic

The result of Klout is pretty simple: Noise.

Noise is that thing on social networks that doesn’t do a darn thing for anyone except let them see yet another status update to ignore from someone that shares so much junk no one really cares to read it 99.98% of the time. I don’t have actual metrics, but from a random sampling taken over the past ten months on my own posts reshared by “Klout influencers”, I found the click-through-rate was around .02% from tweets. That’s about 5 times lower than an ad unit, but it’s free! Well, if you count your time as worthless anyway.

Stop the Insanity

Klout needs to vanish. The only way for it to vanish is if people that have it flat out jump ship and never look back. The only way to dethrone Klout from having the gall to claim authority in measuring the value of your life online is to simply take back the Internet.

This isn’t even getting into the privacy concerns or speculations of their fraudulent score fixing to juggle their own site’s engagement and feeling of importance. This post is about what’s good for the Internet, better for those that use it, and about how to get back to the basics of a pre-Klout existence online. It was better before Klout, it will be better after they’re gone.

For those of you that are worried about your online credibility not being on display for future employers? Spruce up your LinkedIn profile and brag better, ask for a few endorsements – what actual people say about what you’ve done is far better than some mysterious number that can score you some false sense of accomplishment.

As an added bonus: If you’re a business and you need a metric, pull “Time on Site”, there’s some real engagement that actually holds value to what you’re trying to accomplish.

Klout Opt-Out Page

Enrique Gutierrez

Sometimes a few things go a long way. In the case of Enrique Gutierrez, those few things include systems admin, network admin, software engineer, web developer, graphic designer, video editor, and audio engineer. For TechZulu, he's the officer of things Technical.

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  • Anonymous

    That was easy. I’d add revoking access to your accounts as well. On Twitter: https://twitter.com/settings/applications on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=applications

  • Right on Enrique! Klout is bullshit!
    (hahaha, I actually just started my 7 days of bullshit blog series earlier today:

    I hadn’t actually planned for Klout to be one of the topics… but I have felt as you, that in an already too distracted world that already has too little time, that Klout seemed to be hurting more than helping. Might have to rethink my topic list! :)

    I would probably generate more media if I spent less “churn time” on Facebook, email, etc…

    I’m definitely with you on Klout, Kred, PeerIndex and Empire Avenue. But what are your thoughts on places like Technoratti or Digg?

    Actually, I found on Digg — maybe a microcosm of the web itself — that you have to be pretty generic, both in detail and in mass appeal, to rise to any level of recognition. In a way it seems as though Digg sort of reinforces a certain superficiality / internet meme culture.

    A site I really do want to spend more time on is Academia.edu, I’m not certain how much community I may develop there, but it seems to have little of the Facebook insipidness, and much more focus on actual ideas. It seems pretty promising.

    Thank You!

    Oh, almost forgot… and…

    Klout is Bullshit!!!

  • Anonymous

    In response to Enrique Gutierrez challenging me to opt-out of Klout on Google+:

    There is a scene at the beginning of the film Thomas Crown Affair (1999) that will forever remain with me despite its seeming unimportance. In order to introduce the painting that will become central to the film and establish its importance, we are transported to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where a woman is guiding a group of children through the works in the impressionist wing. The children face San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk without any enthusiasm — until they’re informed that the colorful sunset on the wall before them is worth $100 million. Then and only then do you see the expressions on the children’s faces change: their jaws drop, their eyes widen. 

    Authority, you see, has been around long before Klout made a debut on the internet. Even if we recognize it, we do not know the difference between value and worth. Art is rarely assessed on its beauty or what it inspires in us — it’s much easier to read the plaque next to it and assess its worth on our rather subjective understanding of the historical and social context in which it was created. Lacking the education to do this, the value of the art can only be measured by the price attached to it. Wow, $100 million dollars!

    We don’t much understand the things we create. One day, a stenciled image on a wall is vandalism and the next, it is the centerpiece in a gallery showcasing “street” art. We can’t grasp the difference between the two or ascertain what happened, how the establishment decided that, suddenly, this was art. But we do understand the numbers next to the dollar symbol. That price tag tells us the work is worth a lot of money, which signifies to us that it is valuable. We may not be able to tell the difference between a Cézanne and a Seurat, but we know these works have value because of how much people are willing to pay to have them and safeguard them.

    In her essay “Art Objects,” Jeannette Winterson makes just this point:

    “Art takes time. To spend an hour looking at a painting is difficult. The public gallery experience is one that encourages art at a trot. […] Increasingly, galleries have a habit of saying when they acquired a painting and how much it cost… Millions! The viewer does not see the colour on the canvas, he sees the colour of the money.

    “Is the painting famous? Yes! Think of all the people who have carefully spared one minute of their lives to stand in front of it. Is the painting Authority? Does the guide-book tell us that it is part of The Canon? If Yes, then half of the viewers will admire it on principle, while the other half will dismiss it on principle.

    “Who painted it? What do we know about his/her sexual practices and have we seen anything about them on the television? If not, the museum will likely have a video full of schoolboy facts and tabloid gossip. Where is the tea-room/toilet/gift shop?”

    It’s a scathing critique of our relationship with the things we create, and while seemingly contemporary, the issue is as old as art itself. Many of us will encounter at some point a cathedral in the Gothic style. If we are not impressed by how long it has stood where it stands, we will certainly be awed by how much is being spent to renovate it. Do we know that initially the term “Gothic” was derisive, used to describe its barbaric style? 

    How many great works of literature that we now treasure did we at first shun on the grounds of obscenity, defined nationally — as late as the middle of the 20th century — as that which was “utterly without social value”? I’m not just talking about Tropic of Cancer and Lady Chatterley’s Lover — I’m talking about The Grapes of Wrath, Candide and Catch-22. We still seem unable to make up our minds whether Jane Austen merits acclaim or if her work is simply a dated form of chick lit. 

    Indeed, if I asked you to spell out the difference between avant-garde and kitsch, would you be able to do so? Have we forgotten the allegations that photography would never be art in the same manner that painting was art upon the introduction of the camera? The truth is that humanity wouldn’t know art if we were hit over the head with a Duchamp. 

    In an attempt to make sense of these objects which so rarely have utility, we have erected professions and establishment, experts and institutions, to create the textbooks and plaques that tell us why these works matter. We have allowed monetary worth — money itself being a system that is largely illusory — to become the bar against which we measure the importance of a creation. Is it really so surprising that someone has come along and created another illusory means of measuring the importance of the digital representation?

    You argue that a Klout score doesn’t mean anything and you’re absolutely right. Neither Klout nor cash can tell me the value of my art or my words. The process by which I arrived at the price I quote publications that want to run my pieces is as arbitrary as the number on the screen that decorates my Klout profile. But for the artist — the person surviving off the fruit of their creation, whether physical or digital — these numbers assist in allowing us to continue to create. Artists have survived on less, it’s true, but in an age devoid of patrons and support for creation, it is very useful to draw the attention of those with means. Klout can do that. 

    What will this do to the process of creation? It’s true that you could accrue more responses, and thus, a higher Klout score, by incessantly posting motivational quotes long ago uttered by someone else. The same is true of the artist who recreates the works of those considered art’s greats in the pursuit of profit. The creator has since the beginning of time faced this fork in the road: to create things devoid of meaning that will sell, or to create that which feeds their spirit. Klout is merely a new manifestation of this fork: instead of painting coconuts for tourists as we did then, creators are now tempted to squander their talents dropping retweetable sound bytes. 

    You worry about what this will do to creation. Don’t. The beauty of creation is that it cannot be suppressed: we are but its conduits. Where one of us betrays the muse, another is born to continue her mission. It is the greatest conundrum ever faced by our species, that we should be so compelled to devote ourselves so completely and at such personal peril to something that serves no purpose.

    Our impulse to create, you must remember, has survived religious persecution, oppressive regimes, capitalism, leaps in technology – do you really think that a startup that slaps numbers next to names is going to manage to suppress it?

    Further, those of us who have been granted, for whatever reason, the arbitrary titles of “influencer” or “suggested user” in our lifetimes have in our grasp the ability to direct attention to those who are truly bringing value to the world, whether it is through their art, their photography, their writing, their music, their apps or something else. As an editor, as someone who owns her own digital properties, as someone who is asked to form part of panels, this is what I set out to do. 

    Klout may be a meaningless measurement — but we are capable of making something meaningful with it. It is on these grounds that I respectfully decline to delete my profile.

    • Klout is openly inaccurate, and not comprehensive in their assessment of the artist, and they still enforce a tagline of being the authority over your creation in social media. They are half-assed at best with their disregard for people who actually create more inclusive, and “off twitter”, products that are engaged by others every day. 

      This wouldn’t be an issue, were it not applied by businesses to make actual hiring decisions because it carries the cheer of power users. Part of the genius of Klout is their seemingly automatic shoe-in to being the authority simply because users such as yourself and everyone else listed in this post, has a high enough Klout for them to justify leveraging it to their advantage. I dare to say, this is very 1% mentality, in that it’s a system championed by the top tier, for the top tier, and is only valid because it works for the top tier — leaving everyone else in the system to either give up or catch up. 

      Businesses shouldn’t make decisions based on Klout, given the fact that it is incomplete and a complete inaccurate measure of knowledge or influence online. People, especially “influencers” shouldn’t actively participate in a system that openly damages the tech industry by actively diluting it. Klout shouldn’t claim to be the authority in anything other than having put together a partial algorithm that’s an “okay at best” start to a problem that actually needs to be addressed, which is genuine, actual, qualifications derived from working knowledge of Internet technologies and the strategies to make them work.

      Also, simply because flawed systems are in place today as standards for transactions and “valuation” decisions does not automatically mean that another flawed system, openly, covertly, or otherwise, should be blindly accepted as the de facto authority over anything without first considering other possible options and considering accurate and meaningful solutions. 

      Klout knows it’s full of shit, that’s why they give all the higher-ups presents. Bribery is awesome

      • Anonymous

        I am not arguing to the contrary or making a case for the veracity of Klout as a measuring tool. As I started previously, Klout is as arbitrary as the establishment that decides what constitutes art and which of the selected works are part of “the canon.” Klout is incomplete, you say. Would a more complete Klout — one that took into account the time readers spent on a web property, the monthly pageviews, return visits, feed subscribers — be preferable? You seemed to suggest this earlier in conversation. It seems to me that adding these values would still not benefit all users, simply because creators on the internet are too varied a group of people.

        As it is, Klout is a tool for those who use social media. Bringing in pageviews, returning visitors and other aspects largely associated with blogs would only benefit bloggers, perhaps disadvantaging photographers and artists who have taken to social media to familiarize the public with their work. It still does not address the question of programmers — if Klout is being used to decide their value, what can be implemented by the start-up to measure their success? App downloads? What about musicians? Song downloads? 

        It seems to me the problem is not so much with Klout as it is with the understanding of what tool needs to be used to measure what form of influence. As it stands, Klout measures only social media impact, as I have said. It does not take into account actual web properties. It does not take into account the number of downloads your app or album has had. It does not take into account the reviews your movie or book has received from critics. It does not care if you discovered a new species. To use Klout to decide whether to cast an actress with no regard for her detailed filmography on IMDB is as ludicrous as trying to measure an eggplant with a measuring cup or a fistful of rice with a ruler. 

        The “power users” you call out on your Google+ thread — Robert Scoble, Mike Elgan, Leo Laporte, Michael Arrington, Thomas Hawk, Trey Ratcliff, Tom Anderson, Calvin Lee, Sean Bonner, Sean Percival, Alana Joy, Chris Brogan, Casey McKinnon, Dave Taylor, Mari Smith, Jessica Gottlieb and me — are people who use social media as part of our business day, either because we are content creators who use social media to reach a wider audience or because we are directly involved in social media marketing. Based on what Klout has chosen to measure, it is unsurprising that the scores would be “biased” in our favor. We’re always on social media. But to say we are the one percent is to go a step too far: we are not exploiting 99 percent of the web population to unjustly achieve our success. We are working. Just as you are working when you sit down to program. The only difference between you and me is that Klout doesn’t measure what you’re doing. The better solution here is not to rail against Klout, but to develop and support specialized forms of measurement that benefit different types of creators and help them connect with companies that seek their services.

        • Here’s an interesting thing to answer, regarding measuring social media – how do you take into account someone who is followed by about 2,000 people, 10% of which are in the top 5% of X social network? How do you gauge the influencers of the influencers? How do you gauge the social media managers that don’t constantly maintain their own personal brands because they’re busy doing their job? 

          And again – How can Klout claim to be the de facto measuring stick for understanding Internet systems and strategies to leverage them if they can not accurately address these questions, nor can they accurately provide a normalized data set across any of the platforms they boast they report on?

          It is a fact, and we’ve all seen it, with the fluctuation in the result set from Klout, that they have not normalized their data input, thus, even if they are providing relative data to represent “accuracy” across a broad sample of users, they can not represent, nor be the “authority” for anything online, let alone engagement, reach, or whatever the hell else they throw down on the Dashboard in a chart. 

          I hope to god they never include website traffic data – given how people are responding to Klout as is. I’ll stick to more accurate site metrics data analysis with the real business end of the website when it comes to that kind of question to answer. God help us if Klout ever thinks of brining on any form of web analytics as a form of engagement. They will botch it. I move for a vote of no confidence. Opt-out of Klout.

          • Anonymous

            “How can Klout claim to be the de facto measuring stick for understanding Internet systems and strategies to leverage them if they can not accurately address these questions, nor can they accurately provide a normalized data set across any of the platforms they boast they report on?” How? By having no other system of measurement in place to call its practices into question. We need alternatives — specialized alternatives — that focus on specific industries and refine their methods of measurement based on the specific contributions they make to the web.

          • Perhaps what we need is an online reputation engine that measures how you use the internet, what you use it for, and how well you represent what you you’re trying to do online — I don’t think we do, but perhaps if CEO’s need a number to follow, the only way to do it would have to be dynamic in how it represents the millions of types of professions that are perpetuated by Internet communication systems. 

            Klout is claiming to do this, even though they flat out fail at it – openly – and we all still “go along with it” because they give us cookie & businesses are using it as the “thing to measure you by”. That is my problem. 

            Klout is also claiming to be the tool used to measure value, it’s inaccurate, it’s absurd, and it’s completely insane. The only way I see that we can alleviate this issue is to abandon Klout as users, remove it’s “authority” entirely, and force the industry to drum up a solution that can work for us, and stop leaning on a half-baked and frankly half-assed solution as a means to score a job — when we all know it’s full of it.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think that’s the solution. We have determined that one size does not fit all. People use the internet for different things. We need to split up reputation measuring tools and allow individual industries decide what, exactly, constitutes success and what means can be best employed to gauge it.

          • Supporting a tool that’s known to misrepresent it’s users, and is overtly misunderstood by the people using it to make business decisions is against my personal moral standings for improving the tech industry – hence my reason for opting out. I hope for an actual system presenting real value someday, if that’s even deemed necessary after Klout finally vanishes.

          • Anonymous

            I think a variety of systems representing value for specific industries would deal a more serious blow to Klout than a call asking people to opt out of it.

        • Alfie Goodrich

          The sweetest part of your analogy is that you refer to the 1999 remake of the 1968 classic…. so the Thomas Crown Affair you were watching was the one that was, basically, a ‘share’ of the original, much better film with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway :-)

  • Enrique, just wanted to comment here — I work at Empire Avenue. While the story obviously isn’t focused on us, I did want to quickly clarify something: we long ago abandoned a desire to place any sort of definitive value on users. That change in purpose — from wanting to define a singular “influence” score to now just having a strong social economy — ultimately came about when we realized that influence just wasn’t something you could measure… and even if you wanted to, should you? Influence is just so different to every person, and it varies depending on time of day, your needs at that moment, and about ten million other factors :)

    Our site is a lot of things to a lot of different people, but one thing we’re going to be driving in the coming weeks and months is for people to really see the benefits they can get from engaging on the site; in fact, the whole site was built with the goal of allowing people to get more benefits from all of the activity they’re engaging in online, and all of the content they’re creating. So absolutely — the bottom line is that if, say, you’re a content creator, you want people to see that content, to engage with it, and hopefully to earn you some money from that. A new feature we’re launching widely quite soon, Empire Avenue Missions, is essentially an alternative to pay-per-click advertising; you just happen to use the virtual currency you earn on Empire Avenue (by being active and engaged on the site and other networks) to reward people for checking out your content. 

    We’re certainly not all about trying to tie your Share Price to some immeasurable and ultimately not-so-meaningful level of importance. We want you to get actual value out of being on the site — expanding your network, and hopefully earning some real business down the road.

    Hope that clarifies things a bit, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

    • Tom, thanks for the response. I admit, I haven’t used EAv in a long while, and appreciate the clarification.

  • Thank you again Enrique. I deleted my Klout account. I feel better already!

  • Andy

    Other angels and investors have asked us to integrate w/ Klout into Mingle, the proximity social network for professionals (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mingle/id443064933?mt=8&ls=1). But until I feel that Klout is an accurate representation of true professional Klout, I can’t bend to those requests because its hard to quantify its value as a professional gauge of clout. Klout seems like a great feature for Twitter and to measure those who tends to be vocal but for Mingle and for basic professional needs, I pass.

  • ecg0

    No I don’t feel good about using Klout. It’s more obnoxious than even Facebook. Thanks for the opt-out info.

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