The New Yorker: Klout Is Evil, But It Can Be Saved

From The New Yorker:

Social media has a fraught relationship with neurosis. Obsessive people are essential to sites like Facebook and Twitter. They add energy and buzz. Their identities get tied up with their avatars, and that in itself makes the sites seem important. They provide much of the content. A study published last fall reported that twenty thousand users on Twitter provide half of what’s read there. But obsessives are dangerous, too. They can make the site seem creepy. Do I really want to check Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus if all I see are the same thoughts, infinitely recycling, through the same minds? Is it fun to read anything from someone who seems to spend more time tweeting than living?

Social media also has a fraught relationship with competition. If you’re designing a social network, you want people to feel as though effort boosts status. That will lead to more effort. But competition can also be inimical to friendship. It’s hard to make everyone feel like a winner. And no one wants to use something that makes him or her feel like a loser.

Each site deals with these problems differently. Twitter does everything it can to make users obsess about follower count: every time you click on someone’s name, you see how many people follow them, and, for better or worse, you develop some notion of their worth. You know that they click on your name too. Google Plus shows its heart—or perhaps its lack of a brain—by concealing the number somewhat. LinkedIn’s solution is kind. It prominently displays the number of connections you have, until you reach five hundred. Then it just says you have more than that. New users get to experience the thrill and buzz of watching the number climb; but they rarely feel like the lonely kids in the high-school cafeteria.

The newest social media tool to grapple with this is Klout, a service for measuring your influence on all of these social networks. The company was launched two and a half years ago, and it has recently passed several important milestones. Wired just published a long feature on it; yesterday it released an iPhone app; and recently, for the first time, I read a letter from a job candidate that mentioned his Klout score.

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