Klout CEO Joe Fernandez Responds

Received a letter this morning from Joe Fernandez, the CEO Klout. I’m posting it with his permission. Check out the link included for more from his point of view.

Hey John,

My name is Joe Fernandez and I am the founder/ceo of Klout. Saw your article yesterday and then again on cnn money today (will admit that it is kind of awesome to be called a dick on cnn). Anyway, also saw your blog post today that we most have seen your article so I figured I would reach out.

I am just a guy who is into data and started a company in my bedroom. I think you have some good points in your article how the score can cause unnecessary stress and I am reflecting a lot on the product in terms of how we present that. Goal with Klout has never been to turn the interent into high school or ruin social media. My vision has always been to help individuals understand the impact they were having on their friends and the web. I wrote a blog post about it today – http://corp.klout.com/blog/2011/11/the-vision-behind-klout/.

We are working hard here at Klout and I hope you’ll keep an open mind as we evolve. Happy to chat some time if you are interested.

Best,
Joe

60 thoughts on “Klout CEO Joe Fernandez Responds

  1. According to Klout’s metric, you don’t have enough clout for their great perks, yet your blog entry receives attention from CNN spurring a letter from the CEO himself. It sounds as if you have way more clout than Klout seems to think and their metric is severely flawed.

  2. I am skeptical of their business model. Seriously, you want people to measure their impact on their friends and web? Then why give out rewards for this? So if I impact a lot of friends and the web, I get a prize? How is this not a popularity contest?

  3. Yes, the email from Mr. Fernandez was a good touch, and the right thing to do. His linked defense of Klout was relatively pathetic… in essence, “cut me some slack, it’s just something I started in my basement.” If the idea doesn’t work, it deserves to fail. The market is pretty simple. Reading the comments on his blog indicate the model isn’t working for more people than just you, Mr. Scalzi.

  4. I’m actually kind of impressed with the response. Not a carefully calculated PR message, which would have made Klout seem even more lame. Still not going to use the service though.

  5. Sounds like someone didn’t pay much attention in high school, or college for that matter. Start promoting status and influence, cliques and power struggles ensue.

    Also, just because I’m a dirty hamster poker: alright? :p

  6. I give the guy major props for not only responding personally to you, but doing so in a professional manner. I’m additionally impressed that he expressed a desire to listen. Granted, I’m not opening a Klout account anytime soon, but the fact that the CEO reached out is well played.

    Wonder what his Scalzi number is…

  7. That’s the way to do PR. Acknowledge perceived problems with your product and address them while stating the intended goals of said product. Great to see after the BrandLink thing last month, and good of you to share his reply.

  8. “My vision has always been to help individuals understand the impact they were having on their friends and the web.”

    I’d have less of a problem with that if Klout didn’t post inaccurate and misleading information. For instance, googling my name and Klout turns up a search result saying “John Mark Ockerbloom is on Klout” — making it sound like I’m a member — when I never completed a sign-up. (I did once look into it when I was curious what it was, but bailed before letting it have any of my credentials when it started seeming nosier than I liked.) It also claims I’m influential on “Palm Pre”, which I don’t recall ever commenting on (prior to this comment).

    If I do want to erase or correct my Klout profile to get rid of these inaccurate and misleading statements, I don’t see an obvious way to do this– other than signing up or giving it my credentials, which I don’t want to do. (They could easily make it possible for me to tweet an opt-out from the Twitter account they’ve already associated me with, but I don’t see an option for that.)

    In principle, I don’t mind people reporting on what I intentionally do in public (like tweeting, or blogging, or posting comments, for instance). I do mind if they misrepresent me. By its actions to date, Klout doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about that.

  9. Kudos to him for reaching out.

    I’d be interested in reading his blog post about it, but isn’t it based on the same website where the TOS says essentially “By accessing our site, you agree to our terms”?

  10. in unrelated news, Scalzi’s Klout number suddenly skyrockets, qualifying him for the bonus features. Would you like to give us a second chance, Mr Scalzi?

  11. “Grammar does not seem to be part of the algorithm.”

    That was my first thought too. Points for standing tall and doing it with some class; not a lot of that around these days and I would call the response, overall, to be pretty good, above average. But, though light and loose can be a good thing, he absolutely should have had somebody edit that. It may have been a personal email, but it was a professional communication.

  12. Greg – that could conceivably be an effect of having your blog article published on CNN. I know, it’s just crazy enough to be possible.

  13. @John Mark Ockerbloom

    You can actually opt-out here – xhttp://blog.klout.com/corp/optout. We use the bare minimum permissions just to prove identity.

    You are actually able to remove any topic that you feel doesn’t fit your profile by going to the topic page.

    Thanks,
    Joe

  14. Great response from Mr Fernandez!

    Although, as a sidebar to this rather interesting debate, I would add that — on some level — all social media can feel like a high school popularity contest… How many friends? How many tweets or retweets? How many followers? How many circles?

  15. Actually, this Klout thing seems kinda useful for the PR crowd types. The part where he tries to get people interested in their own Klout score is the dodgy part, but I’m sure some people would like that. After all, there were a lot of people in those high school cliques….

  16. Malaclypse/MIzzie: Thirded.

    I’m also a tad skeptical of the “classy” label some have attached to Mr. Fernandez’ response. “My vision has always been to help people understand the impact they were having”, blah blah blah, yadda yadda. What else would you expect the guy to say or do, other than to put his product in the most positive light possible? Until he either acknowledges Klout’s flaws, or makes it easier for people to tailor their profile so that they aren’t seen as representing/endorsing things they are totally ignorant of, or have no interest in, I’ll happily remain Klout-free.

  17. Mr. Fernandez’s email was fine. The referenced blog post, however, is in my opinion a perfect example as to why Scalzi was exactly right in his assessment of Klout.

    “We are putting scores next to people and that can be initially off-putting. If you met anyone from the Klout team my hope would be for you to see that we are not elitist jerks but just a bunch of data nerds passionate about understanding the impact of every person online.”

    Let us be clear here. Klout does not act like it is interested in *understanding*: their system of perks and gamification (and its impact on someone’s klout scores) is a constructive demonstration that they are interested in *influencing the scores as well*. This is important.

    The moment Klout is actually successful is the moment a sizable fraction of the population starts caring about their klout score. That situation will necessarily run afoul of Goodhart’s law (when measures become targets, they cease being useful measures).

    “I see Klout as a great equalizer for the normal person utilizing social media.” No, Mr. Fernandez. The internet is the great equalizer. Your company is trying to stick your finger in the batter, and make some cash on the side.

  18. @Jennifer Davis Ewing – I used “classy” to describe Joe’s response because it was not of the Typical Internet Disagreement type where name calling and expletives are the only argument made in defense. John’s post was strongly worded, so responding with civility is commendable. I make no claims about the strength of his argument.

    “Typical Internet Disagreement” is the name of my next band.

  19. I’m…kinda impressed. He wasn’t snotty or combative or condescending – no “well, you just don’t get it!” nonsense. That speaks well for him.

    Still not enough to get me back to the “service”, though. I use social media to SOCIALIZE. I’m not interested in “influencing” or being influenced. I hate being marketed at all the time, and I’m not interested in being perceived as marketing anything, either. The only sort of product promotion I do is for the winery I volunteer for, and I blither on about other wineries I visit. Not because I’m an “influencer”, but because I’m a happy wino!

  20. Joe: Thanks. A couple reasons I hadn’t done that yet:

    — First: I’d tried that URL earlier, but kept getting redirected to a promo page instead of an opt-out page. (This only stopped just now when I thought of allowing JavaScript from your site to run. It’s fine to have pages that require JS if necessary, but the fallback behavior for folks who don’t run or selectively run JavaScript should be to ask non-JavaScript users to turn it on, rather than to take them somewhere else entirely.)

    — Second: Your privacy policy still claims a right to do anything you want with my information simply by my “using the site”, not even signing up for it. (The “you are consenting to [this policy]… now and as amended by us” bit at the start is the effective we-can-unilaterally-change-our-minds later loophole.) I don’t believe that’s enforceable as long as I’m simply visiting public URLs, but I don’t know if it would be if I get any further involved with “using” the site (such as agreeing to give your app special access to my Twitter account to opt-out).

    But if you want to either change your privacy policy, or agree that by responding in this thread, you and your company give up any right to my data beyond what anyone else has, and release me from any obligations imposed on me by any license, contract, terms of use, or privacy policy you dictate now or in the future, then sure.

  21. “My vision has always been to individuals the impact they were having on their friends and the web.” FTFY Pretty sure that’s closer to the real vision. Nothing in what Klout is doing, or the manner they’re doing it suggests altruism.

    His letter is professional, though more rife with grammar and spelling problems than I would expect in a letter responding to an article posted on CNN suggesting his business model is evil. And the summary seems to be that John has some good points…and he defends exactly none of the examples of “evil” or “dickishness” that were cited in the original post. None.

    It comes across as “we didn’t set out to be evil”, but really, not many do. It happens as a series of compromises, usually from the pursuit of profit.

  22. Fixing above, wordpress interpreted by note as tags… My vision has always been to PROFIT FROM SHOWING individuals the impact they were having on their friends and the web.

  23. Kudos to Mr. Fernandez for a casual yet professional reply. Getting critiqued via CNN can’t be easy to take, and yet he seems to be handling it in a sophisticated, open-minded way. In this age of “type first, apologize later,” I appreciate that he didn’t go off on you, John. That says a lot.

    It’s not enough to make me want to get my Klout back (I happily gave it up a few weeks ago), but it’s definitely enough to make me respect him.

  24. Was “interent” a freudian slip or an honest mistake? Part of me wants to think it’s a subtle insight into the way he views the internet, as a business to pay the rent. But he seemed calm and charming enough for it to be an accident. Everyone benefits when you are able to discuss opposing view points politely.
    Kudos.
    On an unrelated note, enjoy yourself in my home town of Toronto.

  25. The email response is a nice touch, but I’d be more persuaded by “we just want to help people understand” were it not for their habit of sending me emails about new perks that I wasn’t eligible for but that other people in my sphere of influence might be. Or, for that matter, the fact that the last couple of times I’ve gone to their website, they’ve suggested specific people I should invite onto Klout.

    You’re not interested in helping me understand my influence – you’re interested in making a buck off of it. I have no objection to your trying to do that. I do object to your trying to convince me you’re doing *me* a favor by it…

  26. Luckily grammar is not part of the Klout algorithm. It’s not one of my strengths but I will say I wrote the note from a red eye flight to John’s email address posted on his contact page not thinking I would get a response, let alone end up on the blog (which I gave John permission to do in our follow up conversation).

    Monitoring this conversation but running between meetings. Will try to follow up on some of the other great questions asked in this thread.

    Thanks.

  27. “kind of awesome to be called a dick on cnn” makes me slightly more favorably disposed towards Klout. I worked for a software startup that began in a bedroom, moved to a garage, and was (with my help) sold to a NASDAQ firm for $7,750,000. Years and years ago. I’m willing to watch and see if Klout responds well to user feedback — after all Bank of America eliminated their $5 fee for Debit card use, which was disgusting as they make a PROFIT each time a debit card is used. Occupy Social Networks!

  28. Daniel @ 11:27 am

    I’d be interested in reading his blog post about it, but isn’t it based on the same website where the TOS says essentially “By accessing our site, you agree to our terms”?

    I have to say that this sounded fishy when I first read it in the comments to John’s original post (and also in the Charlie Stross article linked therein). It sounds like Mr. Fernandez is trying to say: “By simply reading a contract, you have already signed it.” Um, no. Though I am not a lawyer, and while Charlie’s article focuses on UK law, I don’t believe that would hold up in an American court, either.

    Mr. Fernandez: the notion that merely accessing your site means that I agree to your terms or service simply means that I will not visit your site, even just to check it out. And the comment quoted above suggests that I’m not alone in this.

    But I will join those in giving kudos for maintaining civility in your response. On the Internet, in this day and age, that is lamentably rare, and should be commended when it does occur. :)

  29. Having looked at Klout when I saw friends using it, it was apparent rather quickly it’s not for me. If you are like me, you’ll either avoid it up front or you’ll investigate for yourself and realize you don’t want/need it.

    Or, maybe you’ll like it despite our similarities.

    I salute the guy for finding a way to pursue becoming self-employed/made or whatever. He’s contributing to the greater good, as far as I’m concerned, even if I find his product a bit deplorable. Besides, let’s say he blows it up tomorrow, does that sort of popularity-seeking go away within a week/month/year? No.

    So…”Good luck, dude.” ‘Bout all I really have to say, despite all the blather above.

  30. I civil response from him, and very sporting of you to post it, John.

    Doesn’t really change anything about the site. The fact that the opt-out is there but hard to find is only a little better than it not being there, and even if it doesn’t hold up in court, the fact that they’re trying to claim you’ve consented just by looking at the site is reprehensible.

    Joe, you can fix these problems. I’ll be interested to see if you do.

  31. Dickish (Dickensian?) behaviour can occur in a state of oblivion, and often does. If something is allowed to impact and even shatter that state, and actual change follows, the Dick Score might actually go down.

    And I agree: it’s a much better response than the usual run.

  32. @xopher & @John Mark Ockerbloom

    Definitely not trying to hide the opt-out. You can get to it by clicking privacy from any page on the site.

    In terms of consent just from looking at the site, I am not sure if that is standard boiler plate stuff or what. Does seem a little brutal. At risk of losing my “dick” status I have asked our legal team to review/clarify.

  33. Just remember, Joe, losing your dick status is not the same as losing your dick.

    Making the opt-out easier to find would be a good thing. (Mind you, I haven’t looked at your site, for reasons you’re now having your legal team look at; but if people are reporting (albeit incorrectly) that there’s no way to opt out, that’s evidence enough that it’s too hard to find, wouldn’t you agree?)

  34. Joe since you’re in this thread already, please consider: a lot of folks like me who’ve never heard of Klout are now curious about it. We’d like to visit your site and see for ourselves. But, as has been mentioned in this thread, going to a web site does not bind a visitor to a any terms & conditions merely for visiting. Your inexperience has bit you well & truly; learn from it. Your web site is one facet of your company, it is not the Klout service per se; the T&C should apply to your service, not visitors dropping by. Also if/when you amend your T&C, keep in mind, we’re not idiots. If the T&C are too onerous, many folks won’t accept them. Also don’t miss the hints about being too invasive on the personal info side of things.

  35. Joe Fernandez @ 2:56: Definitely not trying to hide the opt-out. You can get to it by clicking privacy from any page on the site.
    Definitely not good enough. Period. The door out should be as large and easy to find as the door in. Otherwise, I will assume you are trying to keep me from leaving (by force if necessary), and I will act according to my assumption, no matter what you say elsewhere.

  36. ““kind of awesome to be called a dick on cnn” makes me slightly more favorably disposed towards Klout. ”

    Yeah, definitely in the bonus points for attitude and general handling if I have to look at things fairly. If he’s evil, shouldn’t we be getting a better show? BrandLink Communications vs The Bloggess was much more fun.

    Should we wonder if “Klout” was a typ0 and that they’re stuck with it now? (The internet isn’t just for porn. It offers round-the-clock cheap-shot fun.)

  37. 1. I think the response was honest and good-natured, especially considering that a business got negative press on a national stage.

    2. People like numbers. Go check out the magazine racks. You’ll find numbers on every cover. 101 ways to X. 402 ways to increase Y. People want to find some way to quantify themselves. Klout does that.

    3. If you want to start a business that caters to PR, then you peddle a product that PR firms want: people. Klout draws in users with the promise of a score and they get PR based on their connections. This is the same reason Facebook doesn’t charge money: the users are the product. They sell to advertisers. I’m guessing Klout functions the same way. Just another way to do advertising.

    From my perspective, Klout is just another way to sell advertising. Klout will do better the more viewers it can promise. You do that by giving them what they think they want: a number.

  38. @JoeFernandez

    Definitely not trying to hide the opt-out. You can get to it by clicking privacy from any page on the site.

    Please don’t do this. Please don’t treat us like we’re stupid. I really kind of liked you up to this point.

    If I want to delete my account, I don’t think to click ‘Privacy.’ Privacy is where I’d go if I want to fiddle with my privacy settings or review your privacy policy. It’s nonsensical to put the ‘delete account’ option in there, to the point where you might as well hold up a big neon sign saying ‘We’re Tucking This Away Somewhere Random In The Hopes That You Will Give Up On Finding It.’ Whether or not that’s actually your intention, it’s a hell of a dick move, and it’s not fooling anybody.

  39. Mr. Fernandez was indeed professional and courteous in his letter. The problem is that his blog post completely dodges all of the issues in Scalzi’s previous post.

    He explains that the people behind Klout are ‘data nerds’ and ‘not elitist jerks’ – which, however true it may be, is irrelevant. Scalzi did not say that the people who run Klout are mentally stuck on Student Council; what he said is that the effect of Klout is to make people anxious about their Klout scores, so that will do things to benefit that score that are in Klout’s interest, regardless of whether they are in the user’s interest. “But we’re data nerds!” is not a meaningful rebuttal to this point; it’s practically a non sequitur.

    Of course, we don’t have to ask Mr. Fernandez what Klout’s really all about, because Klout is happy to tell us – that is, if the “us” is a business seeking to advertise to Klout users. Nothing in there about maximizing the ordinary person’s voice, or being data nerds. It explains to advertisers how their ranking metric is the best one, how they have “analyzed” millions of people, and how other large companies use Klout as an advertising medium: get your perks to “influencers” (courteously identified by Klout) and those “influencers” will handle your word of mouth for you.

  40. I clicked over and read the Corporate Klout Blog of Joe Fernandez, geeks and hangers-on…

    Considered the personal email as well…

    Hmmm.

    I given ‘em a 46!

    Apparently they give themselves 86 ’cause they can do that.

    At least 86 was the score the last time I checked. By now, with all this publicity they’ll be knocking on heaven’s door to 100!

    Wow!

    So?

    So, I have to admit when I read that the CEO from Klout came up with the concept for the company while recovering from jaw surgery I did wonder,

    “Who clobbered him”?

    Perhaps it was a message from God to keep his trap shut – however – I’m not really that cynical so I took it in good faith that God was merely showing him a new direction. A chance to pursue his dreams and somehow make a difference in the world. Yeah the eternal optimist in me likes to think that way. Funny, others might say he’s in it for the money. Nah! Never! No way!

    My pitiful Klout is 11 ~ watch it move! ;) Oh what fun…

    Zak.

    Just a PS:
    Is it really a case of those spying on those others who spy on them spying on themselves? (Ew, what a thought).

  41. Chiming in here to agree with Daniel @ 11:27 am and Hugh57 @1:20:

    Mr. Fernandez: the notion that merely accessing your site means that I agree to your terms or service simply means that I will not visit your site, even just to check it out.

    I too was about to click on the link when I remembered the TOS. “Said the spider to the fly.”. Even if the spider is a fake prop left over from Halloween.

    On a lighter note, isn’t there a comic about clicking on TOS without reading the part in the fine print where you sign away your kidney?

  42. What I read:
    This is “just a guy” living in his parent’s bedroom trying to become the next Facebook through writing some code that automagically populates his service via testing for social network connections and consuming the results. Rinse and repeat. This is exactly the behavior of a computer virus, specifically a worm. Enough said.

  43. Nice to have a personal reply from Klout. As for me, I can’t seem to delete my Klout account from my side and my email to them via their contact form is still unanswered three days later.

    Maybe Joe would like to contact me too?

  44. @zakgirl

    I also wondered who clobbered him! After reading his emails it created a bit of a dichotomy. He seems nice enough, so why would anyone clobber him. I think because continues to provide “null” responses.

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