Are reputation scores corrosive?

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Klout and PeerIndex (and probably others) are reputation scoring merchants. If you let them access your Twitter, Facebook and other social media profiles they will give a clutch of scores about how influential you are.

On one level this just formalises one of the favourite games of social media early adopters. LinkedIn was a game for some, blogging wa a game for some, so was Facebook.  So were a bunch of also-ran platforms that didn’t last.

Collecting connections and watching for stats is useful sometimes – this kind of little game can get you cheerfully addicted to a new  platform, holidng your interest until you have learned what it is really about.

Problem is, that if some people are playing a game with their social platforms – gain followers, get re-tweeted, +1’d or Like’d – it makes them less useful.

For that kind of behaviour, PeerIndex and Klout are a scoreboard aggregator and encourage play across all platfroms.

It’s shallow usefulness, to borrow a prefix from Umair Haque.

It’s not the fault of Klout and Peerindex. They are seeing a behaviour and building a service around it.

Now they are looking for a business model, which leads us to promotions nominally based on your reputation score. Peerindex came up with a kind of black card for its highest scoring members, Klout has offers based on your score and was recently part of how Spotify rolled out in North America.

For instance, if I lived in America my Klout score would entitle me to a take-away sandwich from Subway:

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Or would have before all the other middle-ranking reputation players had rushed in and swiped all those pulled pork rolls…

Harmless? Well, there may be a problem here. Gamefication begets gaming, or at least more overt gaming…

Some see gaming the system as laudible, the kind of game everyone needs to play to get ahead. This is sometimes part of the “personal branding” mentality. I think that sometimes successful players are distorting their reputation and personal networks and that maybe that’s not that useful in the long run.

Online reputation is an extension, a real part of your actual reputation, not a game world to wander into… Metrics and incentives can be very useful, as any manager worth their salt will tell you. They can also warp behvaiours and destroy value inadvertantly.

Personally, I think Klout etc. are things to look at sparingly, with detached interest where possible. Behaving differently to boost a score is a slippery slope that may be corrosive to your real reputation even as the numbers climb higher…

: : Thanks to Andrew Girdwood, whose Google+ comments prodded me to air some of these thoughts.

Holiday reading

In case you are looking for some ideas about what to read in the remainder of the summer, here are the books that have tickled my fancy over the summer months.

How I Escaped My Certain Fate, by Stewart Lee

Autobiographical story – interspersed with transcripts of some his shows – by my favourite stand-up comedian/ The book recounts his seeming career collapse, re-invention and return to stand-up comedy.

Take that it is utterly hilarious throughout as a given. Beyond that, what it gives a really interesting insight into the business of comedy and Lee’s creative/artistic methods. It doesn’t set out to be be or ever really use the tone of a profound book, but it is – there’s rich inspiration and example here for anyone thinking about being true to their own ideals or trying to remember, re-work what they do for a living.

NB: I read this on the Kindle app, even though Lee says he wrote it hoping it would only work on paper. It worked fine for me, although maybe I missed the point… ;)

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block

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A book about writing fiction by one of my favourite crime authors (Lawrence Block wrote the amazing Matt Scudder series, set in late-70s, early-80s New York – well worth tracking down). Like How I Escaped My Certain Fate, it sets itself against the conventions of its genre, for instance stressingjust how hard writing is, what a work of hackery pulling together thousands of words is, truths I can attest to after my own non-fiction effort.

This is one of a number of books I’d read, or at leat read in part, before. Again, a joy of the Kindle is that I re-visited it on a whim, re-downloading it from my archive while away on holiday.

Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

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This is a multi-layered, cerebral sci-fi joy. But don’t let that put you off…

It’s a lovely book of ideas, but I’ll freely admit, it’s a bit geeky and if you’re not prepared to roll with the conceptual stuff and pages of people explaining scientific or metaphysical theory to each other you might not like it. Worked for me though…

The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson

An account by Jon Ronson of his research into the tickbox method of diagnosing psychopathy as a condition. Along the way he prods at fascinating subjects like the way that all mental illnesses are categorised (by some shouty psychaitrists in a small meeting room was the original approach a couple of decades ago – loudest theories win) and how madness exists at the edges of many people’s lives.

I ripped through this in a couple of days. It’s part gripping yarn – scientologists, war criminals and psychopaths-next-door rub shoulders in Ronson’s story – and part essay on what mental illness really means to us all. Highly recommend this…

The Power of Pull, by John Hagel and John Seely Brown

This is another book I pulled back out of my archive, partly because it speaks to a strategy project I’ve been working on and partly because it felt like it was time to revisit the source material for some ideas that have been exerting a strong pull on a lot of my work. It’s a business book, pure and simple, about how innovation and markets are speeding up as a consequence of the social web, and what strategies organsiations can put in place to thrive in this environment.

Business books I read all the way through are a minority. This is one of an even rarer breed: books I re-read… Probably as important to me now as The Origin of Wealth has been for the past half decade or so.

Change by Design, by Tim Brown

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Design thinking has come in for a bit of flack lately, but it still stands as an amazingly useful way to approach any challenge, from designing a physical object to planning a marketing campaign. I’ve put the ideas to work in refining my Networks Thinking perspective and in designing the next phase of my business.

What’s interesting as well, to connect it with The Power of Pull’s themes, is how quickly some of the case studies have aged. This book was written in 2009, but already since then some markets and companies have moved on a great deal – not least the mobile industry which has been turned on its head in the past three years. Is design thinking is optimal as an approach for tactical, practical issues but doesn’t address strategic issues, despite its ambitions? I’m not sure about the answer to that, but its something I’m mulling at the moment…