When I first received invitations to join something called “Klout,” I dismissed them. They appeared on my Facebook page, and I imagined that they referred to either another tedious and loathsome game or to some kind of shopping thing that would seduce me into hours spent looking at trendy bling. I also have a preternatural distaste for cutesy incorrect spelling. When I actually checked it out, I saw that it “measured my influence” in the interworld. They had me at “measured.” I am incredibly competitive, and I burned to find out where I stood in the realm of “influencers.”
As it turns out, I’m pretty “influential.” I am far more influential than, say, monks living in caves. I am, however, less influential that Arianna Huffington and Sting. I can live with that. I enjoyed reading about my “true reach,” my “amplification” and my “network.” I imagined myself as a kind of Johnny Appleseed, moving gently (and virtually) through the lives of thousands thirsty for the gentle rain of my wit and wisdom. “Oh Ann,” they would cry as they came upon my latest status update, “now we will bake our bread on the grill, too!!”
I wondered how to raise my score, and learned that the higher it got, the more difficult it was to move the number higher. As is my wont, I got a little obsessed, watching the number of comments on Facebook posts and studying the stats on my blog. I learned that there was a big quid pro quo thing going on that really didn’t have much to do with how much anyone else actually influenced you, but which allowed you to give points to others in the hope that they might return the favor. This seemed to have little to do with actual “influence” since you could, if you had time on your hands, mount a steady campaign of giving points solely for the purpose of a reciprocal gift.
One day, about a week ago, I looked at my Twitter feed for the first time since joining the Kult of Klout. I’m not a big Twitterer for a variety of reasons, mostly because I tend to write in a style more Henry James than Hemingway. I do, however, love reading the tweets of those who are masters of the art (Andy Borowitz springs to mind). Last week there was, as you may have heard, a series of fairly significant Supreme Court rulings – so I opened Twitter to see what folks had to say. I was surprised to see that every time I tweet, now, my Klout Score sits in a bright red icon to the left of my Twitter user name like a badge. It seemed odd, presumptuous, and strangely aggressive. Were we all supposed to want to follow people with higher scores? Should we dismiss the tweets of those with lower scores, or take up a collection to get them a better score? Why not have a little badge with one’s IQ, blood pressure or golf handicap?
I started wondering, then, about whether there was any actual value to a Klout score beyond the kind of solipsistic fun that comes from taking an online quiz to see what kind of dog you are. Once I knew my score, did I care? Did anyone else care?! Could I use it for anything, well, useful?
The Klout site seems to indicate that once measured, “influence” can be used to do good things in the world and effect change. That’s possible, but not all influence is good, and not all good souls work the media as well as those on the dark side. Plus, there’s that whole thing about raising your score by currying favor with other Klouters. Hitler would probably have had a really high Klout score; he was charismatic, persuasive and a dab hand at propaganda. Would Jesus have had a higher Klout score than Hitler? He was pretty charismatic too, and he certainly had followers, but he wasn’t particularly organized in his approach. What about The Buddha, who would have found Klout temporal and judgmental? If Henry VIII, Thomas More and Cardinal Woolsey had all had Klout scores, whose would have been highest? They all wrote pretty well, and had their own kind of charm. Would it have changed history in any way? If Sir Thomas had had a Klout score of 72 while Henry and Woolsey hovered in the mid-fifties, would there be a Church of England?
As you can see, my pretty good Klout score does not in any way begin to organize my rambling and incoherent thoughts. Nor, I think, does it do anything else for me. Even if I somehow fight my way to the dizzying heights of Arianna Huffington’s Klout score, she will still be rich, famous, and have a hugely popular website at her disposal and I will continue to be myself. If I pull a Walden Pond and abandon all interworld life for six months (causing my Klout score to plunge) my friends will still be my friends and my enemies will still be my enemies.
Until someone persuades me to the contrary, I’ll think of Klout as a kind of fun blip in my internet life. I admit to a little tingle when it moves up a bit, and a moment of curiosity when it drops a tenth of a percent, but that’s about it. If I have a message that I feel is important, I’m pretty sure that no one on Facebook or Twitter will be galvanized to pay attention because my Klout score is higher than theirs. I hope they’ll pay attention because they like me, or they trust me, or I’ve always been pretty reasonable and reliable in the past.
Kall me krazy, but I’m not konvinced about Klout.