Our little lives get complicated

Not long after I started using Twitter, I somehow decided to follow @sfslim. Someone must have retweeted something clever he said, I suppose. So far as I have been able to determine, after a year of intensive scientific investigation, he is the most interesting person in the social network. I have no connection with him in the Real Life. I once moved in Real Life circles similar to his, but I don’t know any of the people he talks about.

Anyway. Some time back, he tweeted something like:

Rule #17: Never date anyone with a Klout score lower than yours.

Well, that’s a challenge. It sounded like a good snarky joke (and is!). But clearly, not knowing what a “Klout score” was, I was terminally unhip. Better use the Google, Luke.

When you’re down, it’s a long way up

So: Klout is this thing that puts a number from 0 to 100 on everyone in the social network. Use Twitter? Or Facebook? Google+? You have a Klout score.

Klout’s motto is “Everyone Has Influence.” And they’ll measure it for you. Mine is 38 today. What’s yours?

For an engineer, there is something irresistible about this. We love to measure things, because if you can measure something, you can probably make the number bigger.

Of course, it helps if you know what the number is measuring. That’s the first problem with Klout. It measures “influence,” but they won’t tell you what that means.

Evidently, though, the idea is that if more people follow you, you must have more klout. And if more people retweet you, or @mention you, that adds to your klout. And if your followers have a lot of klout, that’s better than if they are nobodies.

So if you want to engineer this, there are some pretty obvious tactics for increasing your score. I’ve almost entirely refrained, because it seems kind of gross. (That’s problem #2.) The methods are the same you’d use to become popular in high school. Paul Graham wrote an insightful essay about why nerds and freaks—I might be both—don’t do those things. Yash Tulsyan’s response anticipates Klout’s likely algorithm.

You cannot go against nature

Sometimes when I read other people’s blogs, I think I detect in their writing an echo of an idea I put out a few days or weeks or months before.

Of course, this might be a delusion of reference. They might have come up with the idea themselves. Or, more likely, they read the same book I did. I have no new tale to tell.

In fact, genuinely new ideas are vanishingly rare. Most of what we think we think, we actually just borrow. Ideas are out there; some look attractive, and we grab them, and perhaps shine them up a bit, and give them back to our friends.

I wrote about this in “Thought Soup.” It seems to me quite a Buddhist observation. In meditation you can see that your thoughts are not “yours.” They arise out of emptiness, dance around, and subside into emptiness.

My world is your world

I write in hope that my tales may be useful. If they are, people will use them. And they’ll pass them on. And after one or two steps, my name will be lost.

That seems to me the true measure of influence. If what you have to say escapes into the wild, so that no one knows it is yours—then you have changed the culture.

Paul Graham’s point is that being popular is a full-time job. Geeks and freaks are too busy pursuing things that are actually interesting to bother.

To be influential, you need to be interesting. To be interesting, you need to be interested—so you lead an interesting life. (At which @sfslim excels.)

To be influential, it also helps to be generous. PG also points out that the most popular kids are often the meanest—and that’s part of the secret of their success.

Nowhere to be found

People like to hear their names
I’m no exception
Please call my name
—Love and Rockets, “No New Tale To Tell”

This is the third and worst problem: Klout is measuring exactly the wrong thing. Its idea of influence is “how often do people call your name.” But that’s a measure of popularity, not influence. It’s easy to compute. But who cares? [Maybe everyone except freaks and geeks?]

Being a geek, I’ll probably keep checking in on occasionally. All those numbers (with four digits of spurious precision) and graphs (of wrong variables) are so sensually attractive for my Asperger’s.

I can’t take it seriously, though. I’ll count myself as influential if I read a blog post similar to this, and am not sure whether it’s coincidence—because I am nowhere to be found.