The Curious Case of Klout

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.

On Twitter? You can look yourself up here. Or check out my detailed score here.

45 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Klout

  1. What really wound me up is my “Klout” is 63 or so. When I went for a marketing interview the other day they asked me the number, “what is your Klout”. Oh I’m sorry, I just happen to know… what if I didn’t? Apparently 63 wasn’t good enough…

  2. yeahh i don’t do twitter, used to but not anymore. don’t do fb either and i’m alive…shocking isn’t it? haha i wonder what my “Klout” would be though…hmmm…anyway! face rank does have prevalence in our society and will probably continue to for years to come…maybe someday it will decide how much credit we receive or where we live. we’ll just have to wait and see….

    ~If i don’t look at you, it’s because i can’t see who you truly are.~

  3. apparently they hate me, because last week my Klout went from 41 to 43 (my pathetic all time high…) and today? Today it’s apparently Zilch. go figure.

  4. The way they mine your private messages is that you give them permission to do so when you “sign in with twitter.” Cool though this is as a tie-in to Extras, it seems a little sp00ky to me.

  5. I’m glad that I don’t have a twitter. The whole ‘I can read your messages and then rate your popularity’ thing seems a little creepy. Maybe that’s just me though. It also sounds very silly. I guess I’m more of a Criminal Minds fangirl or reader than a tweeter (if that’s what they’re called.)

  6. I think it is a good thing that the president has a smaller klout score than Lady Gaga. He should have better things to do than reply to tweets all day.

  7. does the same type of thing, but also takes into account Facebook, LinkedIn and Quora. According to them, I’m hugely influential about … wait for it … sports! Including the WNBA, which I’m proud of, since we’re not entering season #2 without a team.

  8. I must admit, this system sounds very cool, and awesomely Extras-ish! I can’t help but wonder what my Klout score would be, but I don’t have a Twitter, Facebook, or any account on a social networking site. I doubt have a high score anyways. xP Probably wouldn’t want one. (Unless, you know, your apartment size depended on it. Then I’d get an account and work like crazy! Greed is motivation, people. Never question it. xP)

    I am, though, severely disappointed in the current 100 place holder. *sighs* Those fans are rabid, let me tell you. RABID. Don’t ever cross a Bieber fan! *has learned that way the hard way* Never. *shudders* Never.

    Anyways, cool post! Can’t wait for Fanfiction Fortnightly Friday. (Geez, that’s a mouthful!)

  9. lmaooooooo! it kinda made my non-life that j beibs is 100! so not a fan myself, buuut he makes for comical times w/ my friends :/

  10. I’m now curious about what kind of research went on for So Yesterday. I’m so going to search the blog for that. (I wonder if you know why every bra now comes with foam cups – last weekend I was buying gym clothes and even sport bras had foam cups. Ew, the accumulated sweat!)
    Still think that life in Smoke would have been way easier if only they had one spinner, one knitter and one weaver, who’d all be insta-rich there.

  11. It’s been fascinating to watch how things in the real world have mirrored ‘Extras’ more and more since I’ve read it, especially in the twittersphere. I’m amazed at your prescience, Scott! It’ll be interesting to see how far it goes…

  12. 17! Appropriate given that my Twitter is mostly read by me, rereading it to remember my opinions about things. And because I use it to add soliloquy to my life, not to network. Interesting yet slightly creepy conversion of social interaction into math.

  13. It would be Justin Bieber at the top…that made me laugh so hard.

    When I saw the blog had been updated, I flipped out, hoping there would be a Goliath picture…will there be one?

  14. Very interesting. And extremely Extras-ish. I don’t use Twitter, so I’d probably have a score of zero. (at least I better…)

    @Pam: Being asked what your “Klout” number is at an interview? That’s kind of creepy. What about the few people in the world (like me) who don’t use twitter? would such a fact influence job applications in the future? Of course, that also seems extras-y: your rank determines what you’re allowed. (I wonder if Extras character’s jobs were affected by their ranks…?)

  15. Lol Klout is confusing me. “From the clan McBieber.” lol I thought it said McBieb. I had to read to again.

  16. I used to think I thought about what my face-rank would be in Extras and just assumed it would be average or something. But then I realized how in high school everyone would obsess over it. Would you be allowed to hide your rank? I almost would want to try to zero out my score to prove i wouldn’t care about my number. But that would be caring. Ugh, bubbly making 😉

  17. That’s some interesting stuff there! :O I never knew they could do that kinda thing on the internets…

    I want to check out your Klout details, Scott, but I click on the link and all it does is ask me to connect with Klout myself. What to do?

    And I hope to see that art reveal soon 😉

  18. im a 0 yayyyyyyyyy!!!!!
    next is mag’lev surfing ( or hold myself to the back of a subway, not a sandwich but a train)

    ¡GOLIATH! i can´t wait much longer!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. 0-0….. what? I found three things wrong with my life today. 1. I’m so behind technologically, I don’t know what the heck a “klout” is 2 I still need to read the Uglies series 3 and THERE’S STILL 4 MONTHS TILL GOLIATH!! *throws chair against wall*God i live under a rock

  20. 0-0….. what? I found three things wrong with my life today. 1. I’m so behind technologically, I don’t know what the heck a “klout” is 2 I still need to read the Uglies series 3 and THERE’S STILL 4 MONTHS TILL GOLIATH!! *throws chair against wall* I live under a rock

  21. I’m off the grid… literally…..
    No Twitter, Facebook, and I have a different name on a different site like this one (If you can figure it out, I will reward you. Which means no one will get the reward, because NONE OF U WILL FIGURE IT OUT!!!).

    So, I suppose that my Klout is -1. Whoo-hoo

  22. Yeah no idea what that just said but that is completely normal considering i have no facebook, twitter, or a cell phone the only way you can contact me is through email and home phone so i miss out on A LOT of important information.

  23. should be… but like, no ones mentioning the art reveal, so I’m wondering if I’m missing something… :p

  24. I’m 17 and I don’t have facebook or twitter and I’m perfectly content with that! Klout sounds very confusing and vaguely creepy.

  25. Goes to show how crazy people are getting on the internet. 😀 That’s why I don’t have a twitter. (:
    Interesting story.

  26. @Hannah: the blog is a day ahead b cuz its in Australian Eastern Standard Time

  27. going by australian time we have 110 days till Goliath is released
    I CANT WAIT THAT LONG!!!!!!!!!!!
    i must have Goliath now!!!!! :O sorry crazy moment but seriously i dont want to wait that long cant we at least start a count down or something?

  28. I don’t have a Twitter and my mom is in total control of my facebook (which was recently disabled because I NEVER used it.) So, yeah. Technically, I hadn’t heard of Klout before I read this. It would be interesting to see what my score would be, but I could guess it’d be around 0-10. xD Yeah, I’m NOT popular. At all. 🙂

    Goliath is going to be AMAZING. I. CAN’T. WAAIIIIITT!!!!!! 😀

  29. Wow, two articles on the same day about gaming online rankings by two of my favorite authors… It’s funny that you mention Amazon as the influence because the other article is about a new “Like” button in Amazon (based off of Facebook’s model?). I guess it just keeps evolving.

  30. Dang. I don’t have facebook or twitter (I don’t even know what it is) and I just got an email adress like last month so this is new to me. Do these comments count towards your rank? Like, as you said, with the whole ‘chanting someone’s name for an hour straight to improve their face rank’, would it count towards facebook for you if everyone typed Scott Westerfeld? I would just be cool to see.

    \m/ (>.<) \m/

Comments are closed.