the measure of a man

Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone wants to be admired: even I who write this, and you who read this. —Blaise Pascal

Klout and Kred are two services that measure your influence. Or at least your online influence.

This requires you to be online, of course. But if you are, and you have an “@” name on Twitter or Facebook, they are keeping track of you whether you like it or not.

My Klout score is 42, out of 100, and according to the Klout people I influence people about publishing and Christianity. I probably do, but of course they didn’t ask me.

Kred measures social influence (Twitter only) on a 1000 point scale (mine is 522) and you can actually see who has retweeted or mentioned you. You can see who retweeted or mentioned me too.

Unless you specifically make your Facebook and Twitter accounts private, you agreed when you signed up for them to loose your updates into the world. Kred and Klout are simply analyzing pubic data and what you had for breakfast is part of it.

But that’s really not the scary part. OK, it’s scary. But the more immediate scary part is that these scores are becoming part of how college students and others will be hired. Yes, employers look at your Facebook account.

But increasingly they are looking at your ability to influence others, easily quantified by these social media metrics. Your influence is now a commodity. And students are already being encouraged to put their social media scores on their resume.

“Sorry, friend. We can’t hire anyone whose Klout is less than 60.”

No, it’s not that bad. Yet. But the quantification—and commodification— of our social influence is dangerous for at least two reasons.

The first is that there is a tendency to confuse influence with reputation. Reputation can be good or bad, influence can be small or great. None of these tools measure a moral dimension. But reputation has a moral quality. To measure how many people read or share does not measure the value of what we think or do.

People can be widely read for being idiots. Neither novelty or stupidity are virtues. Many shallow celebrities have many shallow followers. But influence is a shame virtue, one that depends more on its shadow than its substance.

The second problem is that once we have quantified our influence we have invited our vanity. My two oldest sons have higher Kred than I do, so I will have to stay up all night tweeting to get ahead.

It is easy to see all the ways people will attempt to manipulate these scores; The truth is, you can buy followers. You don’t have to have any influence at all to know this will not end well.

Already, if you are proud of your score you can put a “badge” on your website. Get a social media business card too. Buy them in small quantities so you can keep your number of followers updated. Better yet, get social media trading cards—like baseball cards only they have your social media stats.

You too can be famous for being famous.

Unfortunately, as François de la Rochefoucauld has observed, “If vanity does not overthrow all our virtues, at least she makes them totter.”

And pride, we know, comes right before the fall.

3 thoughts on “the measure of a man”

  1. Wally, I’m not too sure I’d want someone analyzing my pubic data. At least not over the internet 😉

    But, besides that, at my age and having until recently gone without tv in my home for over two years (I still subscribe to the local daily newspaper and several magazines and read one or two books each week from the library as well as those I purchase) it seems almost incomprehensible that someone would take this Kred/Klout stuff seriously. I don’t doubt many do, and as time goes by probably many more will, but where is the what-does-it-all-mean-for-eternity value in it?

    1. Tom,

      Eternity?! The closer we get to it, the fewer people it seems are thinking about it. It’s all they can do to get through or think past today.

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