Jan 312012
Authors: Matt Miller

Like it or not, we are all defined by a number. The government tracks us through a nine-digit number. Banks evaluate us through our credit score. To universities and schools, we are just a grade point average or a standardized test score.

But in the not-so-distant future we could all be haunted by another numerical ghost –– one that possible employers, friends, family or even girlfriends/boyfriends judge us by.

This number is a ranking of how influential we are in the online world. How many friends or followers do you have? Who reads your tweets and status updates, and do they care?

Imagine if, in high school, everyone was assigned a number for how popular he/she was. Depending on how high school went for you this might sound like a nightmare.

Essentially, a number can define how cool you are on the Internet, and this number already exists. Sites like Klout.com and Peerindex.com –– launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively –– already have this score (sort of) calculated.

These types of sites take information from anyone’s Facebook or Twitter and assign a numerical value (between one and 100) indicating how many people you reach and how influential you are.

For example, Justin Bieber has a Klout score of 100, President Barack Obama has a Klout score of 90, the New York Times is scored at 85 and mine is currently 48.

The problem is numbers like these have drawn some harsh criticism. Why is Bieber more influential than Obama?

In a blog post in December, Klout, trying to quell suspicion with their ranking method, said, “We measure influence primarily as the ability to drive others to action. When you produce content online, we look at how your network responds to that content.”

So, according to Klout, Bieber uses social media better than Obama.

Even though these numbers seem a little skewed, it’s important to remember that the concept is still young. What could happen when technology companies find a better way to calculate online presence?

According to the Pew Internet Research Center, more than 65 percent of adults use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. As social media becomes more ingrained into our society, a number that calculates online influence could become a powerful tool.

When searching for a job someday, an employer may ask for a Klout score (or whatever other website manages to create a reliable algorithm). This may seem far-fetched, but social media has become an important aspect of most careers.

Going into the business world? Every good business knows how to market to customers through social media. Going into politics? Virtually every politician or political organization uses Facebook and Twitter to reach voters.

Want to be a writer, actor, musician or visual artist? What better way to show that you can engage people and build a fan base than with social media?

Earlier this month, LinkedIn spokeswoman Lindsey Pollak spoke to the Washington Post about the importance of measuring social media presence. She said, “If you’re interested in building your personal brand online (and anyone with career or entrepreneurial ambitions should be), then you should definitely pay attention to your Klout score.”

But a number like this could also be useful for more than just job seeking –– it could be valuable for businesses and advertisers. For example, someone might have a powerful online presence about shoes, a company like Nike could find this information and use it to market their product.

Even in the nonprofessional world a social media ranking could prove to be important some day. As our online worlds start to merge with real worlds, a social media score could reflect one’s personality or worth as an individual.

Before you go out on a first date, maybe you check out their online influence score? He or she is a 15, maybe you’ll forget your wallet. When you’re trying to keep up with relatives or old friends, you might be impressed to find that he or she has gone from a 20 to a 35 since you last talked.

I know since I’ve found out my Klout score, I check the site to make sure I’m still a few points higher than my friends, or to throw a tantrum when it drops.

Separating our online identity and the identity we look at in the mirror is becoming more difficult as technology shapes our lives. With social media becoming the norm for how we communicate professionally and non professionally an accurate, quantifiable ranking of these interactions may be the next number to rule our lives.

News Editor Matt Miller is a senior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @Official_MattM.

 Posted by at 3:49 pm

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