Klout in Singapore and elsewhere

Who is the most newsworthy person in Singapore? Surely, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. His remarks and statements are immediately reported by the media – his ideas and policies  affect everyone in Singapore.

However, ordinary people have become newsmakers, too, as they talk about one another on Twitter, Facebook and other online media. And, in this parallel information ecosystem, people may be interested in what others have to say besides prime ministers and presidents. Blogger MrBrown has a higher Klout score (77) than PM Lee (60).

Klout is a San Francisco-based company which says it measures a person’s overall online influence on a scale of one to 10. It defines influence as “the ability to drive action, such as sharing a picture that triggers comments and likes, or tweeting about a great restaurant and causing your followers to go try it for themselves”. The average Klout score is 40.

Critics say it is not an accurate measure of influence. For one thing, it cannot measure how much influence you have behind the scenes. Klout says it collects only public data. “Users can control the data available to Klout by changing the privacy settings on their connected networks,” it says. “Klout will never access your private data unless we have explicit permission.” So if you protect your tweets, Klout won’t be able to tell how often you are retweeted by your friends.

Also, people who have taken the trouble to connect with Klout may get higher scores than those who haven’t. When I looked up PM Lee’s Klout score, for example, I saw the message: “Invite to Klout”. Klout wants you to be an active participant. So it offers this advice on its Frequently Asked Questions page:

Q. What do I need to improve my Klout score?

A. The best way to increase your Klout Score is to create content that people want to respond to and share. For the most accurate Score, we recommend connecting all of your social networks.

And plenty of people do take the trouble, it seems, including leaders and politicians. I did not see the “Invite to Klout” message when I checked up on President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has a Klout score of 81.

Klout may not always be accurate – PM Lee surely has greater influence than suggested by his Klout score – but it may be right sometimes. President Barack Obama curently has a Klout score of 99 – surely, he is one of the most biggest newsmakers in the world. (The Klout score is updated daily, says Klout.) Rupert Murdoch has a Klout score of 91 – there is no denying his importance in the media world. Oprah Winfrey also scores 91. Pop stars Justin Bieber (92) and Lady Gaga (93) score even higher as some of the hottest entertainers in the world.

Being too old to appreciate the likes of Bieber and Gaga, I may snort at their high scores compared with the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffet, who gets only 83. (He also doesn’t seem to have connected with Klout. The message, “invite to Klout”, appears for him as well.) But I remember I was more interested in the Beatles than in any politician. The young have their own priorities.

Klout may not be fool-proof, but it’s part of a trend to quantify everything from air quality to happiness. After all, this knowledge-based society we are living in is also said to be an attention economy where everyone from politicians to bloggers, manufacturers to retailers, is vying for your attention.

What made me think of Klout is the ongoing controversy over whether PM Lee was right in threatening to sue blogger Alex Au for defamation. Au apologized and removed the offending article on town councils and the software firm, Action Information Management. Commentators like Cherian George have wondered whether “defamation suits are the only way to reason with Singapore’s bloggers”.

Former journalist and human rights activist Braema Mathi says in a letter to Today:

We say that reputation is not property that can be stolen or reinstated with defamation suits and monetary compensation alone. Anyone defamed does not automatically have his/her honour reinstated because an apology and/or compensation had been secured.

Reputation may be something intangible but it is a valuable asset.