Goodbye (for now), Klout

Dry your eyes, everyone: Klout, the Black Mirror-esque service that assigned a score to individuals on a 1-100 scale to determine the value of their online presence using social media analytics announced yesterday that it will be shutting down, effective May 25.

After its launch in 2008, the site was acquired by Lithium Technologies in March 2014 for a reported $200 million. Lithium is a software company based in San Francisco whose mission is to sync up businesses with customers via social media, including digital marketing and customer support.

Peter Hess, president and CEO of Lithium, wrote, “Lithium is committed to providing you with the technology and services that will enable you to differentiate your customer experience. Our recent launch of Lithium Messaging is evidence of our focus on this mission. The Klout acquisition provided Lithium with valuable artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning [sic] capabilities but Klout as a standalone service is not aligned with our long-term strategy.”

(In case you’re curious, as I was, Lithium Messaging is a platform that “empowers brands to manage customer engagement across social, web, mobile apps, and community.”)

This news calls for a little walk down memory lane to recall the good times and the bad – in Klout’s case, mostly the bad. Shall we?

Since its launch, Klout has met with a number of critics and has been shrouded in a cloud of mystery and criticism. Take Charles Stross, the acclaimed British science fiction, and fantasy author, who called Klout “the Internet equivalent of herpes” in a particularly scathing blog post.

“Klout’s business model is flat-out illegal in the UK (and, I believe, throughout the EU),” he continued, “and if you have an account with them I would strongly advise you to delete it and opt out.”

Stross’s point may have had a hand in Klout’s “sunsetting,” as the service’s official shutdown date just so happens to coincide with the deadline for companies to acquiesce to the terms and conditions of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Klout’s enigmatic scoring system and lack of transparency, in particular, are what earned them the vitriol and side-eyes they received. At one point, President Barack Obama’s score was lower than that of many bloggers, although that was later rectified by an adjustment made to the Klout algorithm.

While many protested against the site’s attempt to rate human interactions on a numerical scale, other critics hurled more serious accusations against the platform, like the exploitation of users and the violation of minors’ privacy for its own benefit.

The site’s scoring system consisted of assessing the size of a user’s social network and analyzing the ways in which others engaged with that user’s content. This system had real-life repercussions for some people, like the man with 15 years of impressive consulting experience but a score of only 34 who was passed over for a position at a major marketing agency in favor of another candidate with a score of 67.

So this is goodbye to the highly controversial platform – or is it? The conclusion of Hess’s letter indicated that this might not be the last we hear of a service resembling Klout.

“We are also planning the launch of a new social impact scoring methodology based on Twitter,” he said.

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