Vijay Mukhi: My Klout score is 0

24 Oct,2013

By Vijay Mukhi


I have been writing for over 30 years and my editors taught me one big lesson about writing, get your headline correct and the war is half won.


This time I wanted to write about companies like Klout or PeerIndex or Kred that decide whether you will get your job or your next promotion or worse still, decide who would marry you. I was reading this article on Wired that started off talking about this bright guy whose interview got shortened because his Klout score was in the 30s and the job finally went to someone whose Klout score was in the 70s. I then chanced to discuss this with old friend Harish Mehta who told me that he knew of lots of people in the technology world who hold C level posts in large reputed companies and wake up in the morning by checking their Klout score first, which then decides their mood for the rest of day. I am waiting for to display Klout scores on their websites. (when I use Klout, I am also referring to  Kred and PeerIndex and the rest of the gang, as Klout is the most well-known of all social media scores).


I knew that my Klout score would be approaching 0 because my social media footprint does not exist at all. This is what I do on the social web. I hate Twitter because being a writer, saying something in just 140 characters is alien to my existence, anything less than 600 words ( the size of this column) is just not enough. The only tweets in my name are that of my computer program that posts one tweet every day on my behalf. I love (check for a stronger word to use) Facebook, spend at least 30 minutes every day without fail but do not post. Facebook should get a Nobel prize for making the world a happier place to be in because all that I do is read inspirational/ motivational/ funny/ etc/ posts/ videos/ pictures. This brightens up my life and that of lots of people I know. On LinkedIn I just accept whatever requests I get for people who want to connect with me. I do not have the creativity to create You Tube videos or take pictures. This sums up my conversation on the social web , which is silence and more silence.


I created a Klout account and then came back after 48 hours to see my Klout score and I was expecting a number approaching 0. To my utter surprise and horror it was actually 39. I am not joking, that is my Klout score while I am writing this column. My first reaction was that for marketing purposes Klout gives everyone a minimum score of 39, as a score of 0 would be too insulting. After doing some serious research (ironically using the social web), I realised that people actually had scores in their teens. I then thought that maybe Klout needed to be fixed. After all who am I, a nobody on the social web, to dare question the social media rankings that these companies give out. So I will not say that Klout is broken and needs to be fixed, all that I would do is ask three simple questions.


Question 1

This is the million dollar question, how does Klout arrive at my score?

The answer I got was very simple, if Klout tells you all about the secret sauce they use to determine your score, then you would be able to artificially inflate your score and thus beat the system. For example if we give a high ranking to say Followers on Facebook over Followers on Twitter, then you would focus on getting more Facebook followers over Twitter. It’s not very expensive to buy followers on the social web and if anyone can determine a fake follower, he/she would have more money than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet put together. This becomes a Catch 22 situation, do and you are dammed, don’t do and you are damned too!


Google faced a similar problem in the last century. If they told us how they ranked websites when you did a query, then it would be very easy to make sure that your website come in the Top 10 list. Even today there is a more than a cottage industry of people who claim that they can give you a higher ranking on a Google search. This only means that if Klout tells us how they calculate my score, I would be able to decide what my score would be. If they do not, which is the case at present, I have no idea how they compute a score and therefore I now have a right to criticise Klout till the cows come home. The day my score goes through the roof, then Klout is the best thing since sliced bread.


Question 2

The Social Web or the Internet is as different as chalk is from cheese.

The first question can go either way, This one can never have a easy answer. Twitter is text, Facebook is pictures, YouTube is moving pictures, LinkedIn is resumes. Fortunately for us there is no monopoly on the web and I can list at least 25 entities that I would use to rate someone. The bigger players in the social media in, say, China do not mirror the important social media players, say, in Europe. How can any one decide which of these social media players should get what weightage in computing my score. Here we are on a slippery slope because we now have to take a call on who is more important, do we give more marks to Twitter or Facebook or even worse do moving pictures score over static images? Even within pictures, does Instagram score over Facebook. I do not think anyone would even dare answer the question without starting a virtual riot, one reason why the likes of Klout do not tell us how they compute a score. The bigger problem is that within Twitter, for instance, how do you rate a person. Do you give a higher score to the followers count, the number of retweets or the number of times a person is mentioned in a tweet. Do the number of tweets made count. Even within retweets , a retweet by someone with a zillion followers has to have more weight than someone who has only 6 followers like I do. If you give a weightage to the number of times I am mentioned on Twitter, should we not give a positive mention more weight than a negative mention or do we believe that all publicity is good publicity? This is where manipulation comes in. If I know that Klout puts a greater emphasis on positive mentions, then I hire bots that write positive things about me on Twitter and get a Klout score of 100.1.


Question 3

The Internet is not created equal when it comes to sharing data.

With volumes on the social web going through the roof, the entire process of calculating a score would be done by a computer program, no humans would be part of that process. Thus 500 million tweets or 1 billion Facebook users is par for the course, we do not treat these volumes as big data anyone as we have the technology to deal with these vast volumes of data. The problem is that different parts of the Internet follow different policies when it comes to allowing you (better still, your computer program) to access this data. Twitter is most open about this, you have access to nearly all of Twitter’s database, the only restriction is the amount of data you can access per minute. Facebook on the other hand is very stingy with its data access policies. For example, you can figure out the number and names of followers that Mr Bachchan and Mr Salman Khan have in common on Twitter but not on Facebook. Surprisingly Facebook protects my privacy more than most of the social web. Google is at the other extreme, it hates sharing even 1% of its massive database. LinkedIn’s philosophy of life is to charge you for sending ads to its users. I cannot imagine how Klout can use Facebook to determine my score if I do not give Klout access to my Facebook data. A lot of this data created by the social web is free, a lot has to be paid for. After all all social media companies are after all big data companies, they make money by selling your data. Look at the cost of just storing all the tweets we make everyday, forget about processing them. The business model of these ranking or influence companies does not cut any ice with me. How would Klout cover every blog that is out these is a mystery to all of us. Some bloggers may be very influential in their space but will be invisible in all the junk floating around.


To sum up, the social web is just too complex to be bought down to a simple number. We will never know how this number is generated. All of us should take these numbers with loads of salt and treat them like fairness cream, at one level they must be banned or carry a injurious to health label.


Klout should at least reduce my score to under 5 if they have to regain any credibility with me.


Vijay Mukhi is one of India’s best known infotech gurus. His books on technology (especially the one on C) written in the mid-1990s have been considered must-reads for all those learning C. He has been writing on business and social issues concerning IT since the early 1980s. PoliTech, his fortnightly column for MxMIndia, is now more broadbased and will appear every other Thursday.


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