It was just last week that my friend Jason told me about Klout, a website that tracks online influence and comes up with a “Klout score”: “The Klout Score is the measurement of your overall online influence. The scores range from 1 to 100 with higher scores representing a wider and stronger sphere of influence. Klout uses over 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter to measure True Reach, Amplification Probability, and Network Score.”

Then on Sunday, the NYT ran this fascinating op-ed: “Got Twitter? You’ve Been Scored”, by Stephanie Rosenbloom. Parts of the op-ed are balanced, parts tongue-in-cheek, but she generally paints a dystopian picture of services like Klout:

IMAGINE a world in which we are assigned a number that indicates how influential we are. This number would help determine whether you receive a job, a hotel-room upgrade or free samples at the supermarket. If your influence score is low, you don’t get the promotion, the suite or the complimentary cookies. [. . .]

If you have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account, you are already being judged — or will be soon. Companies with names like Klout, PeerIndex and Twitter Grader are in the process of scoring millions, eventually billions, of people on their level of influence — or in the lingo, rating “influencers.” Yet the companies are not simply looking at the number of followers or friends you’ve amassed. Rather, they are beginning to measure influence in more nuanced ways, and posting their judgments — in the form of a score — online.

To some, it’s an inspiring tool — one that’s encouraging the democratization of influence. No longer must you be a celebrity, a politician or a media personality to be considered influential. Social scoring can also help build a personal brand. To critics, social scoring is a brave new technoworld, where your rating could help determine how well you are treated by everyone with whom you interact.

“Now you are being assigned a number in a very public way, whether you want it or not,” said Mark W. Schaefer, an adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers University and the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. “It’s going to be publicly accessible to the people you date, the people you work for. It’s fast becoming mainstream.”

There’s lots of cynicism out there online about Klout too. I googled “klout who gives a shit” and ended up at the blog Blah Blah Fn Blah, on which owner Justin Baisden scathingly critiques our obsession with scoring and with lists — and that was after he made a list of the 150 most influential Twitterers based in Toronto:

Personally, I think the people who put their heart and soul into Twitter were the most upset and as you move down the list it turns into a “who cares?” or “oh shit I’m on the list.” I’m in the latter boat. I legit laughed seeing I made this list. I haven’t looked at my Klout score in six months? Longer? For a guy like me, I don’t really see the direct benefit. I mean if 70 Klout points got me a blowjob from Olivia Wilde I’d find new and more innovative ways to raise my score but otherwise who gives a shit?

“Why isn’t Social Guru #54321 in there? I stroke his dick on the regular so I know he’s got influence.”

Is it really worth getting bent out of shape over a list of compiled scores?

Katy, at don’t drink the kool-aid blog, critiqued the recent inclusion of Facebook in the Klout score, but generally seems to think scores like this have a role to play:

While I’m excited to see where this trend goes, I do hope that brands using this initiative to share their Facebook content are able to have more control in dictating who receives what. My personal recommendation would be for Klout to be cautious of the brands they partner with. Groupon only approves deals from brands if the value is in line with what subscribers want. Being selective will help this initiative stay relevant.

Alex Braunstein does an amazing job on his blog of arguing why your Klout score is meaningless , by doing statistical analysis of real-world examples that don’t add up. (And also critiques the inclusion of Facebook.)

And those are just a few of a huge range of opinions about Klout.

I have a pretty high clout score: 57, which makes me, comically, a “Specialist”. Folks, I’m a generalist if there ever was one.

But I’m a media figure — I’ve written way over 1,000 columns for the Savannah Morning News, I treat my Facebook page with over 1800 friends as a public forum, I post daily or even more frequent entries from this blog on Twitter. I’m out there, and if I didn’t have online influence, there would be something seriously wrong with the ways I spend my time.

But should one company have access to so much information about us? Well, they do if we have Twitter, the data for which is public. And if Klout users don’t add their Facebook accounts, they’re hurting their own scores, which seems a built-in incentive to lead many users to compromise their own privacy (and that of their “friends”, all of whom get scores the moment Facebook is linked to Klout). Btw, I just added my LinkedIn account to my Klout profile; it will be interesting to see if the score goes up.

But should any of us care about our scores? For those who are using social media for purely social and familial purposes, of course not. And services like Klout should create a mechanism whereby Twitter or Facebook users can opt out of the scoring.

I think there would be some real merit in this type of scoring if the real world examples made any sense. For example, Klout indicates that I am influential about business, economics, money, and — get this — religion and spirituality. Maybe it was my recent retweet of an article from The Onion about zombies attacking Pittsburgh that got me into that last category.

And my Klout score is higher than the scores of some Twitter users that I follow, including:

  • Frankfort, Ky.: 14 (I have more online influence than my hometown, the capital of Kentucky!)
  • Georgia.gov: 41 (more than the state of Georgia!)
  • Werner Herzog: 52 (OK, he’s only made 4 cryptic tweets, but I think he’s still more influential than I)
  • Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: 51
  • Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans: 48
  • SCAD: 26 (and here I thought the Savannah College of Art and Design was on every cutting edge)

So this is obviously nonsense. I don’t have more online influence than any of those (except maybe the city of Frankfort and the state of Georgia . . .).

Interestingly, I’m dead-even at 57 with Jim Galloway, who writes the Political Insider blog at the AJC (and does a great job of it) and with Hal Thomas, content manager at BFG Communications in Hilton Head (BFG’s Klout score is 49).

And of course I trail all sorts of major media outlets like the AJC and HuffPost, major cultural figures like Stephen Fry and David Lynch, etc., etc.

In sum, I have some serious doubts about Klout. At least until I get some free stuff out of it.