Categories
Technology

3 Reasons Klout’s Algorithm Is Bogus

Labeling itself “The Standard for Influence,” Klout has worked to become a relevant influence-measurement tool for businesses and individuals.

While every marketer would love a way to quantify social media influence, is there really any substance behind Klout’s numbers? Does a high (or low) Klout score really have an impact on whether you can influence others’ behavior — or is Klout simply an imprecise measurement of one’s social media prowess? Here are three reasons Klout’s algorithm is probably more alchemy than science.

Measuring the Wrong Things

A pie chart graphic from Klout.com


One of the main problems of Klout is that it relies on third-party APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to get data from the networks it scans — and those APIs have limits. A good example of where this falls short is that Klout has no way to monitor click-through rates. The service has no way of knowing what volume of traffic flows through the items a member posts, or if these posts actually lead to any action offline. How can a service claim to monitor influence adequately with such a huge blind spot?

Another issue is what Klout actually tracks and how it tracks it. With Twitter, scores are determined by monitoring things like follower counts, mentions, and retweets. However, it doesn’t give credit very well for those using Twitter’s native retweet system. When a member retweets something, Klout gives credit back to the original account, even if another user’s retweet exposed it to a larger audience.

Some Twitter members don’t like this and have devised ways to game Klout’s handling of this metric. These individuals choose to use the older manual “RT @name” style retweets instead of the native Twitter system. This way, when the post is retweeted by their audiences, they get the score boost and increased visibility instead of the original user. This is essentially a way of stealing influence, and Klout’s algorithm (as it is today) encourages it.

An Ever-Shifting House of Cards

Image credit: Peter Roberts

In February of last year, an infographic made the rounds on the web highlighting a Justin Bieber Twitter spam account with an astoundingly high Klout score. This illustrated some major flaws with Klout and served to embarrass the company briefly.

To combat the loss of confidence in its service, Klout has attempted to iterate and improve its scoring dramatically over the past year. However, it has often done this without notice or explanation. It was not uncommon for members to log in and find that their scores had plummeted by tens of points without explanation. These changes, while aimed at improving the service, essentially stomped all over Klout’s credibility and gave the company a boy-who-cried-wolf reputation with each new algorithm upgrade.

Perhaps most damning is the way Klout has de-emphasized and removed certain metrics in its latest redesign. For example, the latest revision has removed things like user classifications and score analysis. The company has even hidden the ability to track changes to certain metrics over time. If Klout felt more confident in its algorithm, it would expose more of this data, not less.

Topical Misunderstanding

Klout’s system of topics are, in many cases, baffling. For example, having one tweet including the words “Paparazzi” and “Matt Damon” retweeted by someone Klout deems of greater influence can get you labeled as influential on those topics. This can happen despite that tweet being the only time you ever mention those topics. It doesn’t matter if you have many other tweets pertaining to broader topics, such as politics or technology, that achieve a broader reach.

It appears that Klout matches its “topics” to keywords used in social media posts alone, instead of using actual, objective, topics. It also appears that Klout’s algorithm is not smart enough to understand and classify posts based on context—without the usage of such keywords directly. These are some of the flaws of automation. Algorithms cannot understand things like sarcasm and tone, and they have an especially hard time with nuances of language and meaning that only humans would pick up.

At the end of the day, Klout is trying to quantify something as inherently subjective as influence. But while some metrics can be helpful to understand audience reach, influence cannot be distilled into a single number. While Klout’s promise is tantalizing for marketers, it will always need to rely on a certain amount of assumption and fabrication to seem legit, thus leading its value to be questionable at best, and bogus at worst.

Categories
Technology

Steve Jobs on Speech Technology as Transcribed by an iPhone 4S

In 2003 Steve Jobs sat down with Walt Mossberg at the first-ever D: All Things Digital conference. The end of the session included a rare open Q&A with Jobs by audience members in which the following question was asked:

“You talk about handwriting and keyboard, how about speech as a human interface?”

Here is Steve’s answer transcribed by an iPhone 4S using iOS 5’s Dictation feature:

“You know that the last part of that question is is exactly right I I I’ve been almost 30 years and it’s speech is always been five years away because I’m trying to completions
But it went most of the really smart people of speech I know have gotten out of Beelitz it’s like nuclear fusion a lot of bright people went into it and and and people now think it’s a ways away you can do what you can do adequate speech today to meet your correcting a lot of stuff if you just have to know even 1% area try cannot as it turns out you can speak a lot of words in a few terrible so it’s got to be very accurate and so far no one’s come up with the technology Apple’s got a very we got to speak working on stuff Microsoft has a group you want GreatWorks be done in academia but it doesn’t look like it’s been a be real anytime soon I wish it was different”

Here is what he actually said:

“Ya know, the last part of that question is exactly right. I’ve been in this industry almost 30 years and speech has always been five years away. It’s been constant time to completion, just moving along 5 years away. Most of the really smart people in speech I know have gotten out of the field. It’s like nuclear fusion a lot of bright people went into it and people now think it’s a ways away. You can do you can do adequate speech today but it means you’re correcting a lot of stuff. If you just have even 1% error it drives you nuts. Because it turns out you can speak a lot of words in a five minute interval. So, it’s gotta be very accurate and so far no ones come up with the technology. Apple’s got a speech group working on stuff. Microsoft has a group. A lot of great work is being done in academia but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be real any time soon. I wish it was different.”

Looks like Steve was right.

Categories
General Technology Travels

Little Troubles in Big Paris

On Sept 15th, 2011, I began the lifestyle that would define me for the following months; that of a backpacker. My goal was to explore the world, learn about other cultures, and meet new people solely through mobile applications and social networks. Armed with an unlocked iPhone and 7 days worth of clothes, I made my way around based on the recommendations of friends and followers.


When I arrived in Paris via the Eurostar from London, everything was going according to plan. I had a restful train ride in which I wrote, edited photos and caught up on that week’s episode of ‘Breaking Bad’. When I got to the station my friend Kirsten was there waiting for me at the gate with a big smile.

Kirsten is over in Paris for grad school and had moved here just days before my arrival from Chicago. The original plan was for me to stay with her on. She had anticipated she would have an apartment, but was unable to secure a place before my arrival and was staying with someone from her college alumni association. Fortunately she let me know with just enough time to find a hostel for Paris.

She needed to pick up her monthly train pass so I took the opportunity to purchase a series of tickets as well. The next thing on my agenda was to pick up a prepaid SIM card for my phone so that I could proceed as planned with crowd-sourcing my iternerary. In England I had found vending machines at the train station, so I assumed the situation would be similar in Paris. Not so.

Upon my arrival to my hostel I asked about getting a SIM card and I learned that the country had recently tightened restrictions. Due to anti-terrorism legislation, a requirement has been added to supply ID and fill out paperwork to buy even a temporary pre-paid SIM card. So, figuring that the staff that the Apple Store might offer more help, Kirsten and I head out towards the Louvre shopping area.

Once there I was able to get my bearings and learned that there was an Orange store nearby that might solve my problem.

Sure enough, once we arrived at Orange, a gentlemen was extremely helpful at getting me setup. In just minutes I had what I thought was a working SIM card with 500 MB of data only to have it stop working just moments later. Frustrated, I popped the SIM card out and plugged it back in. Suddenly things worked again! And then moments later, they stopped.

I went back to Orange to discover that I needed to ‘top up’ the SIM with an additional 10€ to make it work on data. Even then, it wouldn’t work until tomorrow.

After a little bit of cross-cultural customer service battling, I returned the card for a full refund and set out looking for other carriers via an old-school paper city map.

The plan was to meet up with Kirsten and her friends at a gelato cafe across from Notre Dame around 7 PM. However, by the time I found myself in the area I couldn’t locate the cafe in question, and spent an hour or so just walking up and down the street peering into restaurants before eventually giving up. Tired, hungry and surrounded by expensive food, I resorted to the cheapest thing I could find that I knew I could get quickly: Subway.

I tried looking for WiFi connections I could use to orient myself but it turned out that the same law that restricted SIM card purchases also restricted open WiFi

Unwilling to let the night be a complete bust I trekked back to Notre Dame and spent my time sitting in the courtyard people watching. As I sat there soaking in the incredible architecture, detailed craftsmanship, and the camaraderie around me, I determined that although nothing had gone as planned, it was still a beautiful night. Also, I was eating gelato. Gelato rules.

After some time wandering around I head back towards my hostel and found open WiFi at a bar near the Stalingrad plaza. When I finally got to catch up on tweets, fellow Chicagoan, Elaine noticed I was in Paris and so was she, I then hopped a train and headed her way.

Small photo set posted, more coming soon.

Categories
General Pop Culture Technology

Thoughts on Steve

On April 1st, 2011, I walked out of the doors of The North Michigan Avenue Apple store as an employee for the last time.

My fellow employees were lined up from the glass staircase to the doorway, leaving me no choice but to walk down the middle between them. As I approached, they began to clap and cheer at full intensity. I had been a part of this ritual countless times in my six and a half years with the company, so I knew it was coming. Still, it took every fiber of my being to stay composed. I bolted for the door, and when I finally got there, I turned around, looked back at my friends, and threw my arms in the air to wave goodbye one last time.

Seconds later, I turned the corner. Once I knew I was out of the view of my colleagues, I let loose and full-on wept.

I couldn’t hold it back. Working for Apple was more than a job; Apple was a family. Apple still is my family. I have met some of the most important people in my life through Apple. Mentors, friends, lovers… you name it.

Apple allowed me to put my creative energies to use. It enabled me to move halfway across the country to start over, and it inspired me to strike out on my own.

I learned more working for Apple than I did through all of college and high school combined. I grew more as a person than I could have possibly imagined. Apple filled me with memories and experiences that I will cherish until I die. All of that, those people and memories are a part of me; many of them mean more than anything else ever will. I wouldn’t trade any of it, the good or the bad, for anything.

This morning I woke up in a hostel in Bruges and heard the news. I looked at Twitter, and it was filled with loving, thoughtful comments and not a single one in poor taste. I then looked through Instagram, and it was flooded with photo tributes. Every news site was filled with articles and comments regarding his passing.

And I wept.

I never met the man, I never even saw him in person (though I apparently stood right next to him and didn’t know it), and yet there I was standing on a picturesque bridge in the middle of Bruges on a dreary, cold day openly weeping.

My friend Nick today, posted on his Facebook regarding Steve’s death. He mused on how people feel like they know someone in the public eye when they don’t know their internal person. He said that he hopes Jobs was as good in person as we all like to think he was. I would like to counter that point.

That one man who Nick claims I didn’t know, whom I never met and who probably didn’t even know I existed, profoundly changed my life for the better. For that, I am eternally grateful.

When I heard of his retirement, I did something that I swore as an employee I would never do.

I emailed him.

It was just a simple thank you, basically saying a lot of the things I’m saying here. I have no idea if he read it, and I never will. And that’s okay. I didn’t need anything from him. I didn’t need to know him personally. The Steve I knew, the Apple I knew… it gave me more than enough.

Thank you Steve.

Categories
Photography Technology Travels

London Part 2

On Sept 15th, 2011, I began the lifestyle that would define me for the following months; that of a backpacker. My goal was to explore the world, learn about other cultures, and meet new people solely through mobile applications and social networks. Armed with an unlocked iPhone and 7 days worth of clothes, I made my way around based on the recommendations of friends and followers.


When I awoke Monday morning, Blair was determined to show me what she claimed was “the best place to get bagels” in Europe. Growing up in New York, I was spoiled rotten with great bagels, so I was instantly skeptical of her claim.

It turned out that this place was also somewhere that Lis Rock had already suggested via Twitter based on her travel experiences. And interestingly, there is a competing bagel shop right next door as well. So we decided to try both to determine which was better.

For me, the litmus test of a good bagel shop is their toasted poppy seed bagel with butter. These bagels had little in common with American style bagels. They were smaller, softer, typically plain (as opposed to seeded or spiced), and near-as-I-could-tell neither shop offered the option to have them toasted.

Unfortunately, only the second of the two shops had a poppy seed bagel on their menu. However, the shop without the poppy seed option turned out to have much better butter than the first. Ultimately I was left unable to make a conclusive decision on which was the better bagel. As far as I am concerned, neither were bagels, but I still enjoyed the experience.

After breakfast, Blair and I wandered through the city to the flower market. There we relaxed while listening to street musicians and just watched the hustle and bustle of people around us.

We then took off exploring through the city checking out the aFrom there, she took me to the financial district to check out the architecture as well as St. Paul’s Cathedral. I finally got to visit the famed Covent Garden shopping district and once again took the advice of Jim Binder by checking out a pub called the Nag’s Head. 

The Nag’s Head was an Irish style pub with an extremely short bar and a variety of Adnam’s beers on tap. We rested there with a pint and some snacks briefly before heading back to meet up with her husband Patrick, for dinner at a pub near their flat.

The following day Blair and I took a suggestion from my aunt to visit The Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum was hosting an exhibit entitled “The Power of Making,” which explored the ways people can create things of beauty or function out of the unexpected. Perhaps the most interesting example of which was this amazing Crochetdermy bear.

We wandered a bit more from there and met up again with Patrick at the Albion. Before calling it a night, we caught up with some of his friends for a quick drink and conversation. I had to head to bed as the next morning I was off to Paris via the Eurostar.

Despite cramming a lot in, my time in London was as laid back as I could have hoped. From there on out, the real trip was set to begin.

Full London photo set.