Klout, a service that tracks how much social media attention its users draw and rates their expertise based on the content of their posts, will be switched off on May 25—an announcement that has ironically had Klout trending on Twitter today.
The service, which launched in 2008, also offered an application-programming interface that allowed businesses to collect analytics data about their audiences.
For many early social media users, Klout was a way to gauge how much traction their Twitter, Facebook, and other social media posts were getting. Klout’s semantic tracking of content also granted “expert” status on various topic tags. Klout claimed to have given out over 1 million “perks” by 2013, according to an article in AdWeek—with offers such as weekend-long test drives of Chevy cars. And in 2012, the company drew investment from Microsoft—along with an arrangement to show Klout scores for select individuals in Bing search results.
But Klout’s success in getting people to sign up and give access to their social media feed data was built largely on users’ need to rank themselves—and the gamification of a total abandonment of privacy. Klout’s “lackadaisical approach to privacy” and fundamental underpinnings led science fiction author John Scalzi to call the service “a little bit socially evil” in 2011.
Another author, Charlie Stross, compared Klout to herpes in the way it spread—farming the email contacts of people who signed up and automatically creating accounts for them:
If you sign up for Klout you are coming down with the internet equivalent of herpes. Worse, you risk infecting all your friends. Klout’s business model is flat-out illegal in the UK (and, I believe, throughout the EU) and if you have an account with them I would strongly advise you to delete it and opt out; if you’re in the UK you could do worse than send them a cease-and-desist plus a request to delete all your data, then follow up a month later with a Freedom of Information Act request.
Some were more gentle—’s Nicholas Thompson, in an article entitled “Klout is Evil But It Can Be Saved,” wrote that while Klout was a clever idea, “clever ideas are not necessarily good ones, and Klout is designed in a way that makes it likely to fuel both unhealthy obsession and unhappy competition.”
All of this seems somewhat quaint when viewed in the perspective of what sorts of shenanigans Facebook got up to. But the rampant harvesting of personal data and the questionable nature of Klout’s algorithm—Barack Obama had a lower Klout score than Robert Scoble, for crying out loud—led many to realize that Klout was a funhouse mirror that was attempting to profit off their reflections.
Klout’s own clout diminished significantly, and the company got bought by the social media metrics software firm Lithium for about $100 million in 2015. The new owners started pruning and tried to refocus on turning Klout into more of a business service than a social media gladiatorial battle.
Like many people, I had unenrolled from Klout and forgotten about it. In all honesty, I thought it had already ceased to exist. But then I found recently that Klout had never quit me; it was still collecting data on my Twitter feed and scoring me as an “expert” in more than a dozen areas that I sort of write about. It had also been pulling in the content from my Ars articles. Jilted, Klout had become a stalker.
It’s the privacy problem that’s partially responsible for Klout’s “sunsetting.” As TechCrunch reports, the pending implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) would have required an overhaul of the service Lithium wasn’t exactly excited to pay for. “The upcoming deadline for GDPR implementation simply expedited our plans to sunset Klout,” a Lithium spokesperson told TechCrunch’s Jon Russell.
Lithium CEO Pete Hess said in a blog post about the shutdown that Lithium is “planning the launch of a new social-impact scoring methodology based on Twitter. ” So something akin to Klout may rise again. But we can hope not.