I have always liked old buildings. On vacations I usually seek out old house museums. My home is almost a century old (the original part, anyway, which is only two rooms). I love that high-tech companies are putting their offices into old lofts and industrial buildings. So when I learned that Christopher Gray, who writes about architectural history for the New York Times, was speaking at a local historic preservation organization, I went.
After Gray’s talk I got into a conversation with a woman who is a regular member of the group. She said it was nice to see a “young person” like me (this was several years ago; I was still in my 30s) attending an event in person. It seemed to her that many young people spent too much time with “this new Internet thing.” Then she asked how I’d heard about the event.
“I read about it on the society’s website.” Her face fell.
To me it was an early lesson in the influence of the Internet: a good website can tell you something you didn’t know before; a great website can make you shut down the computer, get up from your chair, and do something in real life. When I say a “great website” I don’t mean great design, just useful information. In this case all it took was an events calendar.
The Internet has come a long way since that evening. Even the term “Internet” has become a bit squishy: it’s no longer just the World Wide Web and UseNet, nor is it just about computers. Sure you can view your Twitter, Facebook and other social media feeds in a web browser, but you can also view them other ways, including hand-held devices like smart phones and tablets. Wi-fi is becoming ubiquitous. As Americans (and others) spend more time online, the means of accessing the online world saturates our very landscape.
So where’s the influence? And who is influencing whom?
Tools like Klout, PeerIndex, etc., purport to measure a person’s online “influence.” It’s an interesting idea but they are nowhere near the goal; at best they can make a good estimate of one’s effectiveness on Twitter (which is the data most of them use). They can measure the number of tweets a user sends, the ratio of followers to following, how many links are included in tweets, and how many @mentions are exchanged.
But I’m not convinced. Specifically, having watched my own Klout score fluctuate over the past few months I think their algorithm has a ways to go before it can even measure Twitter effectiveness well. When I took three days off from Twitter and the rest of the online world over the New Year’s weekend, my Klout score gained a couple of points. Maybe I do come across as the strong silent type, but being silent in social media ought not to raise my influence score.
That said, both Klout and PeerIndex do a decent job of measuring the unmeasurable, if you consider only the narrow scope of Twitter effectiveness. Klout identifies five people who influence me and five others I influence. Four of each group are members of the #UsGuys Twitter tribe, which is where I spend most of my Twitter time. That’s accurate. My other influencer is @WriterChanelle, the organizer of the #GenYChat (which I occasionally participate in, despite being a Boomer) and Klout says I influence @Pushing Social, one of the organizers of #TweetDiner. Those are good so far as they go, but if I’m influenced by Chanelle, I’m probably influenced by @OneJillian, too. And I know that @MargieClayman, the other #TweetDiner organizer, influences me, especially as a blogger—probably more than Stanford Smith (@PushingSocial) does.
But that’s all about online influences, and there’s nothing Klout or PeerIndex could quantify to show how my blog has been influenced by other bloggers, or that I’ve read books (or put them on my TBR list) that were reviewed and recommended by virtual friends.
Offline Influence Hits the Streets
Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google engineer who created We Are All Khaled Said and was jailed for 11 days during the democracy protests in Egypt, was interviewed on 60 Minutes. “If there were no social networks it would have never been sparked,” he said.
But then Ghonim went on to say,
“One of the strategic mistakes of this regime was blocking Facebook. … They have told 4 million people that they are scared like hell from the revolution. … They forced them to go to the streets to be part of this.”
Now that’s influence!
If your presence or absence on social media (or both, in sequence) or access to it can provoke hundreds of thousands of people to go out into the streets and peacefully protest for democracy, you have clout—”clout” with a small “c” and big impact.
Not that Ghonim did it alone. Actually, he kept a fairly low profile until after he was released from jail. It was his use of social media combined with thousands of other young Egyptians and people outside Egypt who spread the word, who united to take action or to watch from around the world and voice their support.
In the end what matters is not what influence we have in the online world; it’s whether the online world can influence us to step away from the computer and do something.
This post is another Monday edition of #UsBlogs. This week’s theme is “How to build your offline Klout.” I’ll be posting other contributors on the #UsBlogs page later in the week, after the pixels are dry.