Klout and Klouchebag: Action and Reaction.

Klout scoreIt had to happen: The combination of social media measurement capabilities and ego gratification has brought forth attempts to “quantify” a person’s influence level in social media.

One of the better-known of these endeavors is run by Klout, a San Francisco-based entity launched in September 2009 that applies social media analytics to measure people’s influence across their social network.

Underscoring the company’s sense of self-importance is its proclaimed tagline/slogan:  “The Standard for Influence.”

Klout purportedly accomplishes this by analyzing data mined from Twitter, Facebook and other social sites – information such as the size of a person’s network, the content created, and how others interact with that content.

Klout profiles built from these bits of information include a “score” ranging from 1 to 100 – the higher a score representing a higher assessment of the breadth and depth of a person’s online influence.

Reportedly, more than 100 million of such profiles have been built by Klout over the past two years. And how is Klout building these scores? It’s using Twitter data points such as:

  • “Follower” and “following” volumes
  • The incidence of “spam” or “dead” following accounts
  • List memberships
  • Retweet activity
  • Unique mentions

Somehow, it doesn’t seem surprising at all that Klout’s rating and ranking activities have come under attack. And the criticism is not just coming from people who are questioning the methodology behind the analysis and rating. Some social critics contend that scoring devalues authentic online communication.

Movie critic, writer and novelist John Scalzi has written that Klout’s very premise is “socially evil” in that it exploits the “status anxiety” of social media participants. Charles Stross, a tech writer and sci-fi author, goes even further: He labels Klout “the Internet equivalent of herpes.”

But perhaps the most biting criticism comes in the form of satire, courtesy of Tom Scott, a freelamce web developer and humorist who has launched “Klouchebag.”

What’s Klouchebag? According to Scott, it measures “how much of an asshat you are on Twitter.”

In the same fashion as Klout, Klouchebag establishes a rating score. But this one is based on the ARSE rating system, an eyebrow-raising acronym that stands for:

  • Anger (“profanity and rage”)
  • Retweets
  • Social Apps (“every useless check-in on Foursquare or similar location-based social platform”)
  • English Usage (“exclamation marks!!! … ALL CAPS … or no capitalization at all … will definitely raise this score”)

For Tom Scott, Klouchebag satirizes what he considers to be a “pseudo-scientific” effort to create a social media hierarchy. He hopes its emergence will contribute to a backlash against Klout and other similar ventures.

When it comes to Klout, Scott is merciless: “I’d been annoyed with the idea of Klout for a while … [which] is one of the worst ideas ever put online. Klout annoys me for the same reason that search engine optimization annoys me: It’s an enormous amount of effort designed to game an arbitrary and often-changing system. Imagine if all that time went into actually making interesting things, or caring about the people around you.”

Maybe Tom Scott has forgotten a thing or two about human nature: People are often smitten by vanity and pride – and the desire for fame. It’s been that way ever since the dawn of time. Why should we expect anything different from people today?

[One can only imagine what Andy Warhol would have said about people and their “15 minutes of fame” had he lived in our era of social media!]

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