Because I wrote Peeps, everyone emails me the latest news on parasites. Thanks to writing Uglies, I’m always up on hovercraft and tattoo technologies. And thanks to the Leviathan series, I get a lot of mail about walking machines.
Being the author of Extras means I hear a lot about Klout.
Klout is a company that generates face-ranks of Twitter users. They have software that constantly scries the “Twitter firehose”—the sum total of everyone’s tweets—and boils them down to a set of rankings. Basically Klout behaves like the city interface in Extras. People following you, retweeting you, mentioning you, and using twitter to converse directly with you makes your score go up. People ignoring you makes your score go down.
Unlike Aya’s city, Klout doesn’t give everyone their own unique number, but gives everyone a score between 1 and 100, with higher scores representing more influence. The scale is logarithmic, like the richter scale, so the distance from 10 to 30 doesn’t mean a lot, but the distance from 80 to 100 is vast.
Here are some examples of Klout scores:
Scott Westerfeld: I bounce between 60 and 62
Youtube Magnate John Green: 71
YA Twitter Queen Maureen Johnson: 74
US President Barack Obama: 88
Genuinely Famous Person Lady Gaga: 94
As you can see, Twitter Klout and real-world clout don’t necessarily match up. I mean, Lady Gaga can’t dispatch Navy Seal teams . . . yet. And possibly running the federal government doesn’t leave a lot of time for @replying with your pals. But a high Klout score is a measure of one sort of celebrity, notoriety, fame, and influence. And the idea of scoring everyone in the (online) world is so inherently Extras-like that I knew you guys would be interested in it, so I took a closer look at what Klout were doing.
Last week I had a short phone conversation with the Klout CEO and Co-Founder Jed Shearer. Here are some interesting factoids he unleashed on me:
1) The Twitter firehose that goes into your Klout score includes direct messages. (Note to self: DMs aren’t as private as I thought.)
2) The overall scores listed above are the tip of the analysis iceberg. Klout also scores people with regard to specific subject matter. For example, you could have a big sports or literature score, but a crappy cooking or politics score.
3) Klout keeps that more specific data secret, and then sells it to marketing companies, who want to find Twitter “influencers.” For example, if you are the biggest manga expert on Twitter, you might get invited to the opening of Akira. (This is actually more So Yesterday than Extras.)
4) There’s only ever one person at a time with a Klout score of 100. Basically, they’re like Nana Love in Extras, or Christopher Lambert in Highlander. And at the moment that person is . . . Justin Bieber. (Of the clan McBieber.)
There’s obviously a lot to talk about here, but it’s nice (for me) how the themes in Extras keep popping up. I’ve seen articles about people with higher Klout score getting hotel upgrades, and of some tech parties only allowing in people with a certain Klout score or above. This is a very mild equivalent of what happens in Aya’s city, where your face-rank determines how big your apartment is, how many resources you can consume, etc. Perks for influencers is very old, of course.
My social media expert friends tell me that people have begun “gaming” Klout. That is, they change their online social practices with the sole intent of boosting their score. Some of you may recall the Reputation Bomber clique in Aya’s city, who chant one member’s name all night to spike his or her face rank. Same basic thing.
Klout seems to me to be simultaneously silly and the first stage of something important. We humans are social creatures, so it’s a survival skill to determine the status of the people around us, especially when we’re in an unfamiliar environment (or an environment that is being newly created, like Twitter or the internet in general).
You will remember this scene from pretty much every high school movie: The new kid arrives at school, and is led on a social safari by a savvy new friend. Usually set in the cafeteria, this scene often contains the dialog “That’s the jocks’ table over there.” Like Klout itself, these little expository set pieces are an oversimplification, an exaggeration, and a kind of a joke, but they’re also useful for learning the lay of the land.
Using math to improve survival skills (the whole Klout enterprise is about computers crunching numbers) is what the last few centuries of human culture has mostly been about. So I’d be surprised if the world didn’t wind up with many tech companies whose sole purpose was the tracking, scoring, and gaming of reputations.
So where did I get the idea for the face-rank culture in Extras? From a much simpler source: authors sitting around and checking their books’ Amazon rankings. (Amazonomancy is the technical term for this.) A humble beginning, but in a way Amazonomancy is more grounded in reality than anything Klout does.
Book sales are, after all, a reputation marker you can eat.