Your Klout Is Gone, Your Skorr Sucks: Why A Reputation Product Is Rubbish

Published in Online Spin, January 18th, 2019

It came through my inbox a couple weeks ago: a small note, buried in a newsletter, about a “unique reputation protocol” that was raising capital.

“[W]e are now building a decentralized reputation protocol for the internet: making reputation immutable and anonymity accountable… This Reputation Protocol allows individuals, organizations and things to create one or multiple reputations, depending on their identity. Each reputation will be immutable, verifiable and traceable and as such, the actor can be held accountable.”

Really? I thought. This again?

By which I meant, of course, that I am not a fan of standalone reputation protocols—even if they are decentralized and immutable.

The note immediately sent me back to that microsecond in history, eight years ago, when a few people seemed to care about a score they received from a company called Klout. I wrote about how ridiculous it was at the time: “[The problem with Klout is that] the carrot, the reward, is the influence you have, and that is backwards. Influence is not a reward or an end result. It is a byproduct of actually being good… A service like Klout promotes the ambition of being influential, but there are no shortcuts. Show up. Express yourself wholeheartedly. Deliver value. Ask yourself what you can give your community. The influence will take care of itself.”

Last May, Klout closed its doors, only to be replaced almost immediately by its near-twin, Skorr. According to its website, not only will Skorr allow you to measure your influence, it “will also allow you allow you to challenge your friends on different social contests and invite them to social media disputes.”

Just what we need: an app to help us argue more online.

But none of this is the main reason I was so unimpressed with the decentralized reputation protocol. The main reason I was so unimpressed is that reputation is not a decentralized property.

Reputation is an emergent property. It is the result of consistent action, over time, in a particular context.

Take Airbnb. When I rent a place to stay through it, I don’t care whether the homeowner has a good reputation as a pick-up basketball player or a bad reputation for eating smelly food in the office. I care that the homeowner has a reputation for providing a clean, as-advertised property and clear communication to guests. The absolute best way for me to know that is by Airbnb providing me with the homeowner’s reputation in that context.

Likewise, the best way for me to get a sense of someone’s reputation on Twitter… is through Twitter. All I need to do is follow someone, or take a look through their feed, through their tweets and retweets and threads and comments, to get a sense of how they engage.

Reputation is the outcome of action, and reputation scores should rightly belong to the platform where the action is generated. Otherwise, they are meaningless.

An immutable, verifiable, and traceable reputation means nothing without the context in which that reputation is generated—and that is why these products are awful. They are trying to convince you, the end user, that their algorithmically generated standalone number has intrinsic meaning.

But good luck with the capital raise.

Kaila Colbin