Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Klout & PeerIndex (Social Network Influence)

A segment of a social network
There is apparently a growing interest in measuring peoples social networking influence. This is neither surprising nor alarming but the results of the early attempts are mixed if my experience is any indication. To be fair both the sites I'm going to talk about here are listed as being in Beta so there is still time for each to improve before they finalize on their initial releases.

One short coming both appear to have is that they focus very heavily on new forms of communication such as Twitter and Facebook either to the exclusion of older forms such as this BLOG (Klout) or they pay at best superficial attention (PeerIndex). You could argue that BLOG's aren't social networking but I'd disagree. Online social networking isn't really new, it's been around in one form or another for the better part of a half century starting with early email lists and progressing right up until today with sites such as Facebook and Twitter. BLOG's are still a viable way of sharing information and building influence and should be part of any score that purports to measure peoples online social capital.

Another short coming is the fact that both these services try to combine a bunch of similar but different services immediately into one all encompassing score. What I'd prefer to see is individual scores for each site they include in their rankings and then a composite score that took into account the individual scores.

I'm also confused as to why both these sites include Facebook. Maybe I'm unusual but I view and use Facebook very differently from the way I use sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn. It feels like trying to include Facebook is mixing two very different use cases to me and I don't think you can get credible results by doing that. It also makes me very uncomfortable to be asked to give an outside application such as these access to my Facebook feed. I take my privacy very seriously and it feels somewhat disrespectful to the people on my friends list that I'm doing this. It's optional of course to grant these applications that access but I wanted to get the best possible picture of their capabilities so I gritted my teeth and added them. I immediately tightened things down as much as I could security wise while still enabling them to (in theory) do their jobs.

Thinking about it I believe the problem is that there are two basic use cases for Facebook. Famous people and companies who use it as a means to keep in touch with and influence their fans and customers and private individuals who just want a place where they can keep in touch with their extended friends and family. While it makes sense to track the first case, I don't see much value in tracking the second.

I've been following PeerIndex for several months now and my score has been all over the map as they've developed and refined their algorithms. In general I think they've been moving in the right direction though I do have some criticisms.

The graphic to the left shows my PeerIndex "Topic Fingerprint". I understand the skew towards Technology and Business but the fact that "Arts, Media and Entertainment" is stronger confuses me. I do have another BLOG I update occasionally that focuses on my aspirations to someday be a competent builder of acoustic guitars but I don't think that can account for this.

Another issue I've noticed is that PeerIndex has something they call a "mozRank" which is supposed to be a value between one and ten that in some way reflects the relative popularity of your BLOG's. This value has steadfastly stayed at zero for both my BLOG's since it showed up in my profile. Even more confusing is the fact that it shows as last having been updated two months ago.

Timeliness of data has been an ongoing problem with PeerIndex. It took weeks for my initial score to show up when I first registered and if I have to manually tell it to update its read on my Twitter feed if I want up to date information. There is more on this topic below in the wrap up section.

My experience with Klout is much more limited. I've only been following them closely for a week or so now. My main complaint is that they appear to only incorporate three sites into their score. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. This is probably why they classify me as an "Observer", or somebody who doesn't share much in spite of the fact that I've averaged more than two posts a week for the year plus that this BLOG has existed and a couple of posts a month over the multi-year existence of my other BLOG. It seems like the fact that I create and share several thousand words of text a month along with the occasional graphic or chart should qualify me to be categorized as something more indicative of participation than "Observer".

Wrap Up
Both PeerIndex and Klout are trying to establish rankings for everyone on line which means they need to read millions of profiles and sites. It's a daunting task, and one that has the potential to seriously impact the resources of Twitter and other sites that are included in the composite scores these companies are trying to create. Thinking about it, that is likely the biggest impediment to services like these. What do Twitter, FaceBook, etc gain from them besides significant bandwidth and processor hogs that thus incur significant costs while impacting the "paying" customers? You could argue that social network influence rankings encourage the use of social network sites but at this point FaceBook, Twitter and the other players getting coverage don't seem to be having any trouble attracting new users. I suspect the primary reason Klout and PeerIndex haven't been shut off is the desire by these companies to avoid the negative press that such a move would create. Maybe I'm wrong about the economics of the situation though.

If I'm not wrong about the economics then these companies are going to have to find some way to not only monetize their services but to also compensate in some tangible way the social networking companies they are dependent on.

So far as I can tell there are three main customers for the information these companies provide.
  1. Companies that are trying to understand how to best utilize their limited resources in responding to what is being said about them and their products on line. Knowing how influential a particular person is helps them do this
  2. People like me who are trying to measure what if any progress they are making in building their online presence and influence. As an aside, I'm not very comfortable with the concept that I might be influencing people. I'd much rather inform. In some ways that is a subtle distinction but I think it's an important one.
  3. People who are trying to get a better idea of who is worth listening to. I'm not sure this is a good thing.
One issue with all of these cases is the fact that they tend to imply that a high score reflects broad influence. Justin Bieber has a PeerIndex score of 91. I'd guess that the bulk of his influence is with females under the age of twenty five. For anyone over the age of forty that score should likely be much lower.

Right now the clear winner in my mind is PeerIndex. It'll be interesting to see how these two companies and others doing more or less the same thing do over the next few years.

Image via Wikipedia
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