Some Observations on Klout Scores

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ben Rothke

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Metrology is defined by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures as “the science of measurement”. 

Metrology covers length, time, weight and myriad other areas.  Physicality lends itself quite easily to measurement.

Non-physical items are an entirely different matter and often the subject of significant debate.  While it is relatively easy to define the speed of sound and the length of a second, measuring things like who was the greatest US President, NFL quarterback or concert pianist introduce significant levels of subjectivity.

Facebook and Twitter users are often barraged by those touting their Klout scores. Klout ties into metrology as a Klout score measures online influence on a scale of 1 to 100. 

Klout states that the score measures influence based on the entities ability to drive action in social networks.  They process this data on a daily basis and give an updated Klout Score each morning.

Some of the actions it uses to measure influence are:

  • Twitter: retweets and mentions
  • Facebook: comments, wall-posts, likes
  • LinkedIn: comments, likes
  • Foursquare: tips, to-do’s, done
  • Google+: comments, reshares, +1

Other networks Klout is working to measure are Facebook Pages, Youtube, Instagram, Tumblr, Blogger, Wordpress, Last.fm and Flickr.

Be it metrology or bibliometrics, measuring influence is an extremely difficult endeavor.  In the academic world, the Hirsch number is an index that attempts to measure both the productivity and impact of the published work of a scientist or scholar.  But there are myriad different situations in which the Hirsch number, like every other index can be manipulated and provide misleading information.

So is Klout an effective method of measuring online influence? From my analysis of Klout, no.

First, do no harm

Klout believes I am influential in surgery and trading; that’s news to me.  Not sure the correlation between surgery and trading, but these are two areas where I have no training or experience.  The fact that Klout thinks I am influential in surgery is reason for a second opinion.

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Battle of the influencers

Check out the following two profiles and estimate what you think their influence scores should be:

Tim O'Reilly is the founder of O’Reilly Media. He created the firm which spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, research and conferences.  He has been a leader and catalyst of leading-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and galvanizing their adoption.  O’Reilly is a legend who has influenced millions and makes the world a better place through his books, conference, insights and more.

Funny One Liners is the persona of an entity that brings humor to Twitter and has over 12,500 humorous tweets.  Stating it has the best of the old and the new humor compiled in one place.  Assuming that laughter is the best medicine, Funny One Liners is healing the world one funny tweet at a time.

If I had to score them as I saw them, I would give Tim O’Reilly a 90 and Funny One Liners a 20.

So how does Klout score them?  71 for Funny One Liners with O’Reilly close behind at 70.

Res ipsa loquitur - facts speak for themselves.  Irrespective of what Klout says, as witty as Funny One Liners is, it can’t come close to the true level of influence that O’Reilly brings to the industry.

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Me vs. the SANS Institute

The SANS Institute is the source for anyone who is serious about information security.  Every SANS instructor is unrivaled from Hal Pomeranz, Lenny Zeltser, to Ed Skoudis and the other scarily smart instructors.

Yet with all that, even if you throw Jess Garcia, Dr. Eric Cole and Stephen Northcutt into the mix, and the SANS InfoSec Reading Room with thousands of free articles, I still come out as more influential than SANS, albeit that their instructors collectively have over 1,500 years of industry experience.  That alone should clearly demonstrate that something about Klout’s notion of influence is lacking. 

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Metrology hubris

While it is absurd to think that O’Reilly and Funny One Liners have the same influence, nor SANS and I, Klout measures itself at a lofty 89. 

Like the parent who thinks their child is the most precious, and really believe the talent agent who says that their little boy will be the next Justin Bieber (Klout score of 100), Klout needs to get a large dose of reality.

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Measurement is hard

I ran a number of comparisons on truly influential entities and came out with similar results.  I suggest you do the same and see what your results are. 

Measuring influence is not a trivial matter, in fact it is extremely difficult.  A single Consumer Reports like is worth infinitely more than a million Kim Kardashian likes.  Yet Kardashian’s Klout score of 91 pales to Consumer Reports 58.

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If nothing else, the fact that Klout considers Kardashian to be an influence in religion and spirituality is somewhat heretical.

The challenge of measuring influence on a social media scale is colossal, given the hundreds  different data points.

Klout has its work cut out and it seems like they need to be in beta a while longer.  Klout can and should be applauded for trying to measure this monstrosity called social influence; but  their results of influence should in truth, carry very little influence. 

Ben Rothke, CISSP is an information security professional and the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.

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