Klouchebag.com, a new parody of Klout, is the most entertaining expression we've seen of a growing backlash against the clout-measuring service's recent spate of media attention. Klout is a service that measures your influence across various social networks based, in part, on an algorithm that looks at who retweets or likes your posts. This determines whether they, and by proxy, you, are "influential" and Klout then assigns you a score. Nicholas Thompson writes in The New Yorker today that he's already seen a "Klout score" cited in a job application. It makes sense; having actual clout makes you an attractive employee at a media company, and Klout is meant to quantify that.
So then, what's Klouchebag? Well, it's a "service" rolled out today by Tom Scott, a techie critic and talking head, that measures, in his words, your level of "asshattery" on the web. "I got annoyed with the fuss around Klout," he explains on the site, "the horrible social-game that assigns you a score based on how 'influential' you are online."
Here's Scott's algorithm for measuring how irritating you are:
Klouchebag uses the ARSE rating system. Anger: profanity and rage. Retweets: "please RT"s, no or constant retweeting, and old-style. Social Apps: every useless checkin on foursquare or its horrible brethren. And English Usage: if you use EXCLAMATION MARKS OMG!!! or no capitals at all, this'll be quite high.
Klouchebag declared this writer "a bit of a prat" with a score of 31. Psh, whatever. We spend a lot of time on Twitter here at The Atlantic Wire, and over time, we've developed some non-scientific opinions of our own about the people we follow. So we decided to see how well their Klouchebag score measured up against our impression of them. Not very well as it turns out. Our first complaint is that the system gives far too much punishment to those who habitually retweet. We actually like when people retweet! It gives credit where it's due and helps us find cool stuff. Also, the site seems as much a parody of CNN's Piers Morgan as it is a of Klout. He gets a full score of 100. (That seems to be a joke programmed into the site's source code. Scott also gives himself a score of 100.) Meanwhile, it's kind to known Twitter asshats like James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal, who regularly tweets things like this:
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! observer.com/2008/08/a-cuta…— James Taranto (@jamestaranto) April 26, 2012
We assumed he'd get dinged for excessive capitalization and exclamation, but no, with a score of 38, Klouchebag declares him, like this guy, only "a bit of a prat." The more we used it, the more we disagreed. But, it turns out, that seems to be the point. The elegance of Klouchebag is its shoddiness. (Even the name kind of doesn't work when said aloud.) When someone pointed out to Scott that the site seemed to ding people who don't tweet in English, he responded, "Of course - that's one of many problems with the algorithm. Reminds me of some other, similar site... :)" As a parody of Klout, it's only supposed to be as representative of what it claims to measure as Klout is, and some people suspect that Klout's algorithm doesn't measure the thing we want it to, or not well anyway.
So it's a fun, inelegant parody. But what's with all the Klout-hating that spawned it? Scott alludes to "the fuss around Klout" as his impetus for creating the site. Thompson's New Yorker post explains a bit better:
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.
So Klout's recently, and very publicly gained in influence (okay, okay, clout, it's gained in clout.) The Wired piece by Seth Stevenson that Thompson references also addresses the growing critiques, noting, "Not everyone is thrilled by the thought of a startup using a mysterious, proprietary algorithm to determine what kind of service, shopping discounts, or even job offers we might receive."
Thompson makes a reasonable critique that the site encourages us to use social media in an annoying way. Scott's parody seems to be making the same point by measuring just how annoying some of us are being on Twitter, and pointing out that simplifying people into numbers gives them a false confidence, chiefly because it appears to inarguably quantifiable. In a note at the bottom of the site, Scott preaches a bit about why we shouldn't focus on our Klout scores:
Concentrate on making amazing things, caring about the people around you, and not being a douchebag. If you do that, then you'll soon realise that the number some algorithm made up about you doesn't matter one jot.
So go ahead, if you haven't already, and discover how much of a pain you are on Twitter. Just don't expect a very accurate result. That's sort of the point.
Update: WSJ's Taranto has an excellent response to this piece.
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! theatlanticwire.com/technology/201…— James Taranto (@jamestaranto) April 27, 2012