Klout throws in the towel on whatever they were trying to accomplish - long live GDPR!

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed May 11, 2018
Klout is shutting its doors. Who better than me, a Klout fanboy of the highest order, to pay a loving tribute? But hold up - there's a GDPR twist.

As soon as the news of Klout's self-imposed mercy killing broke out yesterday, the congratulations and faux commiserations poured in:

To which I could only say:

I guess my Klout rants weren't just howls into the social wind after all. I'm no Nostradamus, but this baffled me:

Fun at Klout's expense is so easy, I pretty much stopped doing it:

Klout turned social media into a high school cafeteria

Klout did its darndest to turn social media into the online version of the high school cafeteria, where groups of supposedly influential people lorded over the rest, reeking of an insular superiority they never deserved, one that was fortunately fleeting and probably more of a curse than a blessing (e.g. Robert Scoble still has a pretty high Klout score, despite a few things that happened largely outside the scope of Klout's myopic algorithm).

Meanwhile, the notion of automated influencer scoring damaged enterprises, giving them the misguided idea they could use a templated ranking to determine who to engage with. Klout never really proved they could accomplish more than a quick glance at someone's bio and follower count could. Too bad their investors didn't realize that. I guess they were caught up in the data perfume of the metric-ocracy.

When Klout came out in 2008, it was not the first tool that took a stab at measuring Twitter/social influence. But Klout felt more ambitious than the others. For early Twitter users like myself, Klout had the same impact as your guidance counselor cynically suggesting you get involved in student governance, in order to improve your college chances. Or, as Dustin Hoffman was once famously advised in The Graduate, "Plastics!"

Suddenly, it wasn't about conversations anymore, but whether your tweets went viral, and whether social media celebrities thought you were relevant to their revolutionary culture building echo chamber.

Suddenly there were stakes beyond the true gold of social media: forming relationships with like-minded folks the world over. The great conversation became the great ratings system in the cloud. Klout scoured through our social media exhaust like a feral cat on an epic dumpster dive. Everything you did was factored into a Klout score that might someday be used to bestow favors and opportunities.

We're still measuring the wrong things

That pressure was semi-real: to cite one example, Klout scores were (sometimes) cited in job applications. I recall mocking an event party where a minimum Klout score was required for admittance. The Klout job screening nuttiness reached its peak with this bile-inducing tweet from Klout CEO Joe Fernandez in 2012:

Klout was less of an evil company and more of an inevitability. It was inevitable that social media would become self-conscious and commercialized. It was inevitable that some type of social caste system would form. Yes, online influence gave some folks who didn't have a platform a chance to achieve it, and rise through the algorithmic ranks. Klout soured that too, blurring the lines between hard-won topic authority and vacant social climbing.

Of course, Twitter has now taken up Klout's handiwork, with a helpful "what you missed" section that surfaces more popular tweets. When you have a monster follower count, you're going to be get more engagement. So your tweets carry further now if Twitter's algorithmic reach grants its blessing. The rich get richer and the rest... check their Klout scores. But not for much longer.

Even today, some of the most influential folks on the enterprise side have low social media profiles, and comparatively low Klout scores. Let's say you own a small consulting firm, and customers moving to the cloud have you on speed dial. You have genuine influence, well beyond crashing an event hashtag - influence Klout always struggled to measure. If you weren't active socially, and left no social crumbs in the data dumpster, Klout struggled to see your merits. But in the enterprise world, that's the kind of influencer that matters to B2B buyers.

For a decade plus, I've had two Twitter accounts, my main account, jonerp, and jonerpnewsfeed, my hand-curated enterprise news picks. When I first began to study Klout's algorithm, I was surprised to learn: my newsfeed wasn't too far behind my real Twitter account in Klout's rankings.

I struggled to understand how a newsfeed, a one-way broadcast, could approach the perceived relevance of my personal account. I was also surprised Klout had no way of combining the two. Klout considered me two separate people. Maybe I should have tried to get jonerpnewsfeed some exclusive party invites.

Years ago, when I analyzed this, the best I could determine is that Klout put a premium on the proportion of high impact followers on my newsfeed, and retweets over replies. But Klout didn't seem to care much about the interaction levels I was having on my own account.

Especially in those days, a flurry of tweets could bring you closer to someone you had never met. When you eventually saw them at a trade show, it was like you were old friends already. It was a magical thing then and despite the endless preening and "follow these gurus" lists and compulsive hashtagging, it still is. My colleague Den Howlett used to call this "ambient intimacy," and for me, it remains the true social currency.

The rest are just blasts - and receiving others' blasts. It's social batting practice with words and pictures. But since that's what Klout can measure, that's what is ranked. Klout ushered in the social media analytics tool plague. Today, we're still measuring the wrong things. Matthew Hughes got similar chips off his shoulder in Klout was awful and I'm glad it's dead:

I deeply resent Klout for contributing to the popularization of the toxic quest for “influence.” There have always been influential people on social media, but they did stuff — and never set out with the aim of being an “influencer.”

I was hoping my newsfeed would eventually catch jonerp in the Klout rankings. That was something I could have lorded over Klout till the end of time. That plucky feed came pretty close a couple times, but then I stopped watching.

Since then, I think Klout did adjust its algorithm to emphasize interactions more. That's how the aforementioned Robert Scoble wound up with a higher score than President Obama (for a while anyhow). How Justin Bieber pulled that off will remain an algorithmic embarrassment.

Enter GPDR - the dreamkiller for bottom feeders

But there's an interesting twist to Klout's demise: the role of GPDR. Evidently, along with my Klout grievances, Klout also needed some regulatory flexibility to survive. Diginomica reader Clive Boulton got things started with:

After some debate, diginomica contributor Kurt Marko located this:

We can't attribute Klout's demise solely to GDPR, but that didn't stop me from tweeting:

It would help if I could spell the word "exits" right, but exists will do. Fortunately that mistake won't effect my Klout score.

GDPR isn't done putting bottom feeders and data adventurers on notice. We recently saw this with Unroll.me, a personalization outfit which sells user data as freely as if they were a New York city falafel cart, which had to rescind access to European users (sorry to be the bearer of bad news), and GDPR is to blame. So, long live GDPR. (see our latest GDPR analysis by Chris Middleton, The U.S. will have to follow Europe on GDPR, says SugarCRM CEO, but it won't be easy).

As for Klout, I feel the way "my" Boston Celtics did after their surprising series victory over the favored Philadelphia 76ers: enjoy tonight, fellas, but there's more adversaries to confront. Hughes put it bluntly:

If you’re sad about it, comfort yourself with the knowledge that shit ideas never truly die; they just take different forms. A new startup I just stumbled across, called Skorr (of course that’s what it’s called), is aping Klout’s schtick before the corpse has even reached room temperature.

For now, here's what I do know. Today was a good day:

End note: I lifted "true social currency" from my favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman quote in Almost Famous, which is hauntingly apt right about now:

See, friendship is the booze they feed ya ‘cause they want ya to get drunk on feeling like you belong.... Because they make you feel cool, and hey, I met you. You are not cool.... Because we are uncool... The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.

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