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Klout: PageRank for people

Google’s PageRank was created to solve one of the most daunting problems faced by internet users in 1999: which websites have the greatest influence, and deserve the user’s attention? As we learned in class, Google solved this problem by creating an algorithm that calculated a website’s relevance by looking at the pages that linked to it. However, the web has changed significantly since 1999. With the arrival and explosion of websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, the web has become less anonymous, less centralized, and far more personalized and focused on a websites’ users, rather than on the website itself. Therefore, an analysis based on hyperlinks is no longer enough to get a true picture of importance on the internet. A tweet by Lady Gaga, for example, that includes a link to a band’s fan page on facebook will be seen, retweeted, clicked on, and liked by millions of people around the world almost instantaneously, but from the point of view of PageRank, it represents no more than one link from one website to another in a sea of millions of links between the two websites, and fails to capture the true power of the message.

Enter Klout. Klout is a startup founded in 2009 to remedy this exact problem. It takes advantage of the features of social media websites that quantify a person’s importance: their twitter followers, their facebook likes, and indeed, the PageRank of a person’s wikipedia entry, and aggregates them all together to form a cohesive picture of a person’s influence, or “Klout score” in the social media world.

In this way, Klout takes Google’s problem of looking at a website’s influence, and applies it to people. Just as a websites’ inbound links represent its authority score, a person’s twitter followers, and his followers’ willingness to retweet his posts, are used to calculate his own personal authority score. Likewise, just as a website has a hub score in PageRank that reflects its ability to influence Google search result rankings, a person’s Klout score represents their influence in social media: just as a link from is considered more important under pagerank than a link from a random geocities account in 1999, a tweet from Justin Bieber has far more influence than one from a random Cornell student.

And indeed, just as websites with a high PageRank have a high earning potential, with its place at the top of Google’s search results leading to more users who will click on its link, seeing and clicking on its ads, and leading to higher ad revenues, Klout’s about page lists perks ranging from tickets to Disney’s Tangled to keys to a brand new Chevy Volt as rewards given to people with high enough Klout scores by advertisers in an attempt to leverage their influence in social media as advertising tools.

With the internet looking so different than it did in 1999, advertisers have to look for ways to apply its market strategies to this post-Web 2.0 internet landscape. And just as PageRank facilitated that very process in the world of Web 1.0, Klout looks to do the same 10 years later.




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October 2012