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Klout.com: When Messing with People’s Lives, You’d Better Be Transparent

Did Klout "Pull a Netflix"? No, Worse. What You Need to Know

Klout Who??
Not familiar with Klout.com? Not all that many people are - I only signed up for it this week, more out of curiosity than anything else after I read an article on it on Engadget - curious about Klout giving away Windows phones that I didn't want anyways.

And Why Should You Care?
Klout is sure to spook privacy-conscious people, but everyone should be aware of Klout.com or at least be aware of this growing phenomenon and how it might impact them.

Klout creates publicly accessible "Klout Scores" for people who use Twitter, Facebook, etc. It's like the credit reporting agencies - but for "social media" influence, rather than creditworthiness. Oh, and ANYBODY can see your Klout Score. That's what makes it a bit spooky. And its workings are secret. YOU CANNOT OPT OUT OF KLOUT. Over 100 million people have already been rated, graded, assessed and have a Klout Score.

Envision a day where the Maitre-D' snubs you on your anniversary because your Klout Score is only a 12. Or you get denied interviews or even fired because your Klout Score went down. Or you get dumped just as a romantic situation is looking promising when the other person finds out you're a social media loser. Or someone else gets the airplane seat upgrade or hotel room suite even though you're a more loyal customer.

My Experience
So I sign up this week on Tuesday to find out that my Klout Score is a 54. Turns out that's pretty respectably good. I'm pleased. I look up @RWang0's score, his is up in the 60's, which makes sense - he's hypersmart and lots of people listen to him. Then I look up @ZUrlocker. His is a 53. That made no sense - Zack is a "bad-ass" in the industry. So I know the algorithm is flawed. And then @Struckhoff tweets me to tell me that @Qwikster has a higher Klout Score than me. @Qwikster's last tweet was weeks ago and was "well I mean she coud atleast let me watch my show but no she has to hogg it".  #FAIL.

And Then Everything Changed
The next day, I sign on to twitter, and behold, my score has dropped about 20% to 44. HUH? I sign on to Klout's Dashboard and it congratulates me because my score has risen +4 this week and some fraction of a point in the last 24 hours. What?

Then I Google Klout and see the news - they've redesigned the algorithm for Klout Scores, and people are up in arms in open revolt, it seems. It would have been nice it Klout had bothered to email me and tell me (as a member) about this. Or maybe put something on their website.  Or maybe not rewrite historical graphs as if the change had never happened.

What's the Big Deal?
Yeah, I'm annoyed. Am I annoyed because I'm suddenly 18.4% less important? No, that's not it. And that's not the reason other people are irritated.

1) Klout.com pretended like nothing happened at all.  I wasted time trying to figure out what had happened. All the graphs on Klout all showed that my score had remained constantly increasing over the week. No mention of a 10 point drop. I would have attributed it to faulty memory if I hadn't tweeted something to someone about it. They re-write history.

2) They lied to their members and to the public, saying that "very few people would experience changes in score". In fact it appears that a huge majority of people experienced massive drops. Don't lie to me if you are measuring me and possibly impacting my life.

3) The algorithm they use is shrouded in mystery. Klout CEO Fernandez arrogantly poo-poos that concern stating "Google doesn't tell you how its algorithm works". Yeah, but Google doesn't have the potential to directly impact your personal ability to earn a living. So Klout needs to hold itself to a higher standard and be accountable unless it truly wants to face an angry mob of fire-brand carrying people at some point down the road.

4) Klout.com promised to launch something today vaguely called "insights" that "give users a bit of an explanation when their score goes up or down". Well, I don't see any insights. And any company that could someday impact my ability to provide for myself and my family had BETTER provide more than a "bit of insight".

5) Klout promises continual tweaks to its algorithm. If people's Klout Scores were so far off earlier this week, why would I trust the new algorithms? What new surprises do I need to look forward to? Will those new changes impact whether my resume makes it on to some future short list or goes into the shredder?

With Power Comes Responsibility and Accountability
Klout is on a mission to change your economic, career and social future. But they won't accept responsibility and accountability for their actions. And they won't offer transparency. Or explanations.

CEO @JoeFernandez tweeted "Not exactly fun having the internet want to punch me in the face but I belive the product is in a much better place" - clearly missing the point.

Earth to Fernandez: Nobody gives a crap about your stupid product.  People care about the impact that your product has on them personally.

The fact that Fernandez doesn't get that is truly troubling -  perhaps he's just some geek hiding in a basement with all that data.  But he needs to accept responsibility for the fact that his products impact lives.

As reported on GigaOM, " One of the most popular comments said that Klout was used by some companies for job searches, as well as employee performance reviews and other similar purposes, and that the company's changes could affect people's livelihood: By changing the entire scoring system for the basic Klout score, you have damaged many people's employment viability and impacted their earning potential - particularly in the nascent field of Social Media roles."

What to Do About It?
If you're irritated about the situation, let people know.

[email protected] (Joe Fernandez) or [email protected]

Their largest VC is Kleiner Perkins - @ChChien is the board member. Other notable contacts - @klout and @joefernandez

There's also a new popular hashtag all over Twitter #OccupyKlout and a user @OccupyClout

Have You Heard About the New Invention in Social Media?
It's called the telephone.  It allows you to talk to other people voice-to-voice.  It's pretty cool.

411.com lists Klout's phone number as (213) 590-3268. It's decidedly un-modern, but you could always call and give them your opinion the old fashioned way.

Go bang on their door and tell them in person:77 Stillman St., San Francisco, CA 94107

More Stories By Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis has established himself as a successful software marketing and technology expert. His various strategy, marketing and technology articles are read nearly 50,000 times a month. He is currently Director for Global Marketing Operations for Dell Software Group.

Hollis has developed substantial expertise in middleware, SaaS, Cloud, data management and distributed application technologies, with over 20 years experience in marketing, technical, product management, product marketing and business development roles at leading companies in such as Pervasive, Aruna (acquired by Progress Software), Sybase (now SAP), webMethods (now Software AG), M7 Corporation (acquired by BEA/Oracle), OnDisplay (acquired by Vignette) and KIVA Software (acquired by Netscape). He has established himself as an industry expert, having authored a large number of technology white papers, as well as published media articles and book contributions.

Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers. He is also an author on Social Media Today "The World's Best Thinkers on Social Media", and maintains a blog focused on creating great software: Software Marketing 2013.
He tweets actively as @SoftwareHollis

Additional information is available at HollisTibbetts.com

All opinions expressed in the author's articles are his own personal opinions vs. those of his employer.