I’ve been wondering about this new +K function on Klout — an ability to reward people for their “influence” on certain subjects.  In fact I thought the development was somewhat disturbing because it seems to invite people to game the system.

I know a lot of people hate the idea of being rated on Klout but I am sincerely impressed by the way the young company is pursuing a disciplined and rigorous approach to creating a constantly-improving approximation for influence.  It’s far from perfect, but I give them props for focusing on the right thing — improving their algorithms by investing millions of dollars in technology and PhD-level resources.

So why in the world would they open themselves up to be gamed with this new +K thing?  I am already seeing people ASK to be awarded +K points in hopes of raising their score as they seek valuable new Klout Perks.

Well, as it turns out, the +K designation is fairly meaningless at this point.  I asked Klout co-founder Joe Fernandez about this innovation and here is his answer:

“The +K award does not affect your Klout score,” he said. “We put it out for a few reasons — to drive engagement and to help build-out our models around topics.”

Joe compared it to a personal “like” button to reward somebody for a job well done.  “If I came to Knoxville and you recommended a restaurant to me and I went there, I should be able to give you a +K to acknowledge that.  Or if I’m sitting at a conference and listening to a panel where somebody is making amazing points I never thought of — I should be able to give them a  +K and reward them. That’s the idea.”

Joe did not discount the possibility that +K points could play a role in assessing influence. “We would not dismiss the possibility that it might be factored in some day, but the integrity of the score is so important so we would have to take baby steps.  When we put the +K feature out, we didn’t even know if anybody would use it or what would happen. We’re analyzing the data now. Everything we look at is user-generated content, no different than a re-Tweet. We have to just be smart as to how we include +K– if it ever gets included at all.”

Here are a couple more Klout score nuggets I learned from Joe:

Influence of multiple platforms –While Klout is only connected to a few social media platforms today, it may be integrated with dozens in the next few months. Being spread thin across these networks does not necessarily help your Klout score. “As far as somebody being on three social networks versus 50, we’re network agnostic,” Joe said.  “So  if you’re just on Yelp or Twitter or Facebook, you could have a higher score than somebody who has a little influence but on more social networks.”

The factors of influence — Klout’s official blog names 35 different factors being considered when weighing on influence but that list is already climbing as the company learns more about the nature of online influence. “We are constantly adding factors,” Fernandez said. “I’m guessing we’re over 50 now. Our science team of 10 people — that’s their job every day to refine that and make it better. As we moved from Twitter to other networks, we would have these debates internally about is a Facebook Like equivalent to a Twitter RT … sort of like a currency exchange question! We came to the conclusion that all of these networks are different so every network must have its own ground-up influence algorithm. We have another algorithm that combines the scores for you — not generically for everybody. So, if your most effective platform is Facebook, it will take up the bulk of your scoring and everything else is added in.  I think the algorithm will be hundreds of data points or thousands at some point. It’s infinite complexity.”

Artificial connections — I asked Joe about the issue I raised on {grow} last week — how people seem to be using a strategy of trying to artificially connect with people with high Klout scores to improve their own scores. He said that gaming the system this way is difficult: “While much of the score is based on how influential the people are that are interacting with you, it would be really hard to manipulate the score unless you get a bunch of people trying to do it at the same time you are. But they would put their audience (and their score) at risk by helping you with that effort. So, we don’t see anything happening like that on a mass scale but we have a whole team monitoring for that sort of thing, including people with past experience at Google who have already lived through that sort of thing!”

Klout has a big challenge ahead — continue to refine its model, manage growth in a smart way (quadrupling its staff this year) and take advantage of monetization opportunities like Klout Perks.  But I do sense it’s gaining traction and they have more or less owned the buzz in this space.

What do you think about Klout?  Interested? Obssessed?  Or a non-event?


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