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Analyzing the analyzers: Where are social worth applications getting their numbers, and how much do they matter?

score lineup

Without question, the social influence analytics platforms have been a primary target of user hate. It should surprise no one that assigning human beings scores based on what’s essentially a popularity contest we call “social media” has managed to cumulatively piss everyone off. Of course, it simultaneously made us pay attention, and even sign up, too.

But they haven’t won our faith, or even allegiance. While Klout was the first to tread into this territory, others are following suit — and now we have to make decisions. Which score is the right score? How can any of this be thought of as accurate? I took a look at the three most popular platforms, Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex, and, in addition to feeling simultaneously influential and inherently uncool, tried to get an idea about how useful and meaningful these systems actually are.

Klout

As the pioneer of personal social network analytics, Klout is a relative old-timer. The application was launched in 2009, and has since spent equal amounts of time defending itself and fine-tuning how it approaches this whole “social worth” thing.

The score, in Klout’s words

“The Klout Score is a number from 1-100 that represents the aggregation of multiple pieces of data about your social network activity. We compute the Klout Score by applying our score model to these signals.”

Recently, Klout started factoring in new signals. “The Klout Score incorporates more than 400 signals from seven different networks. We process this data on a daily basis to generate updates to your Score.” Included are Facebook mentions, likes, comments, subscribers, wall posts, and friends; Twitter retweets, mentions, list memberships, followers, and replies; Google+ comments, and +1s, reshares; LinkedIn titles, connections, recommenders, and comments; Foursquare tips done; Klout’s own +K received; and Wikipedia page importance, inlinks to outlinks ratio, and number of inlinks.

Breaking down my score

Klout gets some things right with my score, which is 60/100. The three topics is says I’m influential about are technology, photography, and social media – although I’d argue there’s a pretty big difference between photography and reviewing digital cameras (is the topic of “digital cameras” not available?). And of course the numbers concerning how many times I’ve been mentioned on Twitter or posted to Facebook in the last 90 days are also correct.

klout hub

But the new Moments hub is a little confusing. I’m using the new version of Klout (which, for all intents and purposes, is a big improvement), and the Moments dashboard shows off “your influential moments from the last 90 days.” Included are a reference to watching “Saved by the Bell” and a photo from eighth grade of me that someone posted to Facebook. What I’m saying is that this is generally personal content: There’s only one location check-in, no brand tags or mentions, and nothing that could even loosely be described as a product picture.

no one caresAnd more telling, nearly all of my Moments are from Facebook, which as far as I’m concerned, is where I go to talk about things that rarely matter. However, since I write for Digital Trends, I have a meager yet decent amount of subscribers, which I have to assume plays largely into the Klout score.

Also confusing is when I pull up my entire list of influential topics. Apparently, the New York Knicks is one of them – but not the Portland Trail Blazers. I can’t emphasize enough how crazy that is, but I think I know why Klout believes this to be the case. During the season, I go back and forth with a friend from New York about the Knicks, and he happens to have nearly 3,000 more Twitter followers than I do. So again, it would appear that context is getting lost because I’m not having conversations about the Blazers with the right people (read: people with lots of followers).

So what seems to matter more than anything else isn’t what you’re talking about but who you’re talking to.

Presentation: The new Klout is the nicer Klout

The recent Klout makeover has largely been well-received, and for good reason. Beforehand, your Klout number and some charts about your effectiveness and what things signaled your importance were front and center. Turns out, that was a tough pill to swallow, and Klout’s trying to soften up that image with things like the Moments dashboard and the ability to hide the pure analytics piece altogether. It’s sort of feels like a “Hey! We get it! You’re people, not numbers!” admission.

Kred

Kred is arguably the second most popular of such applications, though it’s still in beta and launched only a year ago. If differs from Klout in how it scores, though its recent product launches also show a similar humanizing approach.

The score, in Kred’s words

“We analyze billions of tweets from the last 1,000 days. We add your Facebook actions when you connect your account.”

Kred has two scores, Influence (out of 1,000) and Outreach (out of 12).

“We measure influence by assessing how frequently you are retweeted, replied, mentioned and followerd on Twitter. If you connect your Facebook account to your Kred profile, you get Influence points when people interact with your content on your wall and the walls of others who have registered their Facebook account with Kred. Facebook interactions counted towards your Kred include Posts, Mentions, Like, Shares and Event Invitations.”

“Your Outreach score is cumulative and always increases… engaging with others and helping their spread their message.”

“It’s measured on Twitter by your retweets, replies, and mentions of others. When your Facebook account is connected to your Kred profile, you get Outreach points for interactions on your own wall and the walls of others who have registered their Facebook account with Kred. Interactions counted towards Kred include posts, mentions, comments, and likes.”

Clearly, Kred has a lot to say about its scoring methods, and that’s probably because they’re inherently more confusing and different than what we’re “used” to seeing (a relative term given the youth of this market altogether).

Breaking down my score

At this very second, I have a 752 (out of 1,000) as my Influence score and a 6 (out of 12) as my Outreach score. Kred processes scores in real time, so over the day I hit refresh and saw these numbers change several times.

As I’ve been made to understand it, the Kred score is based on how much you can motivate others to respond to your content, as well as your willingness to return the favor. In a way, I feel like you’re supposed to interpret it as an analysis of your digital relationship-building skills. And in a lot of ways, I feel like it’s totally catering to the marketing side of things and not users, but not for want of trying.

“This is a marketer’s Hallelujah,” CEO Andrew Gill tells me. “Here’s a platform that’s open and shows how it scores.” To Kred’s credit (see what I did there?), it is incredibly forthright about what social actions are worth to your score. He also points out that you can see how individually active a person is in a certain community.

kred fitnessAnd this is where I have to take issue with my Kred score. According to the service, my top communities are “Fitness,” “Yoga,” and “Health.” That’s all very nice, but highly inaccurate. There’s a hub on your Kredentials page where you’re supposed to see what moments contributed to a community score, but there’s nothing here for me — possibly because these aren’t things I talk about all that much on my social accounts. Falling farther down the list are communities like Tech, Publishing, Reporters, Social Media, and then stranger things still, like Biking… something I’m not certain I’ve ever said a word about.

Oddly, my word cloud generated by Kred is solidly tech-oriented — words like iPhone, screen, and platform are all there (as is “actually” and “thanks,” which I find greatly amusing). Nothing about Fitness, Yoga, or Health, though.

Given how Kred scores, I have to imagine that the few times I’ve mentioned those three things have been highly engaged with. I went back to see if this was the case, and unless the NBA falls under Fitness, I’m having some trouble understanding these designations. There’s another section where more communities are brought up, and here it appeared I had different scores than on my Kredentials page. It simply did not make much sense.

One icon on the Kred Stories front page showed that Bloggers, Tech, and Social Media were my top communities, and when I would click them here I got an entirely different score than I did from my main Kredentials page.

Presentation: Swing-and-a-miss

The big takeaway from using Kred is that, most of the time, I feel overwhelmed and confused. The Kred Stories page, which is at first interesting, never make me feel like I’m actually getting any information out of it. Some bits and pieces here are engaging, but the confusion about my scores and top communities has made me a skeptic altogether. It’s all just a little bit too surface right now.

PeerIndex

While Klout and Kred get most of the name recognition, PeerIndex rounds them out. The young, UK-based startup has managed to raise a considerable amount of money and garner enough attention to land itself in the same sentence as the aforementioned services — and yes, it looks a lot like its competition to boot.

The score, in PeerIndex’s words

“Your overall PeerIndex score is a relative measure of your online authority. The PeerIndex Score reflects the impact of all your online activities, and the extent to which you have built up social and reputational capital on the Web.”

As you might expect, PeerIndex goes into great detail about its methods, but the most important part to mention is that there are three main components to a PeerIndex score: Authority, audience, and activity. So a little more on these.

“Authority is the measure of trust; calculating how much others rely on your recommendations and opinion in general and on particular topics… Your Audience Score is a normalised indication of your reach taking into account the relative size of your audience to the size of the audiences of others. In calculating your Audience Score, we do not simply use the number of people who follow you, but instead generate from the number of people who are impacted by your actions and are receptive to what you are saying… Your Activity Score is the measure of how much you do that is related to the topic communities you are part of. By being too active, your topic community members tend to get fatigued and may stop engaging with you; by taking a long hiatus on a particular topic, community members may not engage with a long absent member. Your Activity Score takes into account this behavior.”

Breaking down my score

Looking at your PeerIndex page is more like looking at Klout than it is Kred — mostly because you have one number to assess. Mine is a 52, although, honestly, from the information I’ve been given from PeerIndex, I’m not sure why.

The breakdown of the topics I’m most influential in do make sense, however. Listed are the Internet, mobile technologies, and social media.

peerindexBut there’s no further details on my number: I sort of just have to take PeerIndex’s word for it that my 52 out of 100 is based on something concrete — in fact, while I’m told that there are three areas that determine my score, I’m not given any information on how I did in these three areas. It’s a very genalized approach.

The top people I influence doesn’t make much sense: It’s someone who mentioned me on Twitter once who I’ve had no other contact with, and some other Twitter use I’ve never heard of, with no details about why they’ve been indicated as influenced by me.

CEO Azeem Azhar tells me that a site relaunch is in the works, though, and should launch in the coming weeks. 

Presentation: Clean, but half-hearted

I much prefer looking at PeerIndex than Kred, but less than Klout. Azhar says the UI relaunch will be pretty impressive, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else the application can bring to the table. Because right now, it’s clean, uncluttered, and easy, but there’s nothing engaging there.

Conclusion

By going through these applications, and trying to understand the numbers I was seeing and how they apply to me, there’s only really one thing I can take away: That there is some inherent value here, but no one knows what it is or how to determine it yet. 

I’d have to say that Klout is still ahead of its peers, and that its recent makeover has helped the platform look a little more human and friendly and a little less like a machine trying to grade us on how cool we are online.

Azhar did make a compelling point in defense of social worth platforms, comparing the system to your credit score. “Consumers should care,” he says, “Because it’s a reflection of what you can use your influence for in the real world, and everybody does have influence.” As the real world and virtual one continue to meld, whether we like it or not, the weight we carry online will be important. Now as far as figuring it out goes… let’s just say there’s plenty of ground left to be broken.