According to the old TV spot, when E. F. Hutton talks, people listen. Today, this would be described as an early example of digital influence, and there’d be some sort of score for it, because online advertisers want to reach people who in turn reach other people, thereby presumably garnering more bang for their bucks. There’s just one problem with this scheme, and it’s simply this: how can you trust these scores? Consider the matter of PageRank:
Google developed an innovative relevance ranking algorithm — PageRank — based on the hyperlink structure of the Web. The PageRank algorithm basically takes inputs (i.e. the hyperlink structures of the entire Web) and cranks out a score for every webpage that, in theory, represents its authority on the Web.
As we learn from the behavior economics of humans, when we put a score on something, we create an incentive for some people to get a better score. This is human nature. Because people care about themselves, they care about any comparisons that concern them, whether it is their websites, cars, homes, their work, or just themselves. Some would go so far as to cheat the algorithm just to get a better score. In fact, Google’s PageRank algorithm has created an entire industry (i.e. SEO) around gaming their score.
Subsequently Google, quite properly I think, began screwing with its algorithms, just to foil those who would game them, a process which continues to this day.
I used to display a little button on the sidebar that looked up my PageRank on a regular basis and showed it to the world, and by “the world” I mean the tiny fraction of humanity who’d visited the site. Eventually I figured out that the number of damns actually given about my PageRank was likely less than the PageRank itself, and deleted the button.
Now comes a trickier scheme: attempting to measure an individual’s personal influence in social media. The justification is the same, and the results are even easier to fudge:
If you tweeted a lot yesterday and your influence score jumps up today, you’ve just discovered that you can increase your influence score by tweeting more. Knowing this, would you continue to tweet more? Most people probably would, especially if they care about their score. This has created a lot of loud mouths who are not actually influential in any meaningful way. Therefore, his influence score is merely a reflection of the fact that he has successfully gamed the algorithm into giving him a higher score simply by tweeting more, but not actually doing anything truly influential.
The poster child for this sort of thing is called Klout, and it measures a mix of social media. Based on my tweetage and Facebookery, I apparently have Klout of 59. Fifty-nine out of what, they don’t say, though some folks I know who take this far more seriously than I do — or who pay no attention to it yet happen to do things that fatten their scores — fall into the 70-80 bracket. This suggests that infinite Klout — so much influence that conversations stop just to hear what you, like E. F. Hutton of old, have to say — would be assigned a score of 100.
Incidentally, the old Hutton company disappeared into the void of Wall Street consolidation many years ago; a grandson of Edward Francis Hutton and some former Hutton execs are trying to restart the company anew. As of today, they have a PageRank of two. Mine is, um, five.
(Tweeted by high-Klout Jeff Jarvis, with the observation that “Klout is bullshit.”)