Digital Profiling : We Are More Than The Sum Of An Algorithm

Just read this thought-provoking, somewhat queasy-feeling-making but required piece of reading from Jerry Owyang.

For those of you have no idea who the man is, Owyang is a highly regarded digital strategy and online media thinker.* And now that you do, don’t zone out, even if all you want from your social media is to connect with friends or check out the latest awesome grandkid pics. Because….

The gist of Owyang’s piece is that digital profiling is coming to an interaction near you, whether you’re ready or not. Now, this is hardly earth shattering news – pretty much everyone is now aware that you need to be aware of what your online social presence says about you, particularly if you’re job hunting. All those tweets and Facebook (not so public but easily shared/liked/viral) statuses where you were hungover, nasty about a public figure, or displayed bigotry. Yeah, all that forms a first impression of you, and informs your desirability as a candidate. Good luck if you were kidding and now sit in front of a search committee that doesn’t see the humor or share your politics.

Klout Logo

Influential people in my networks score "low." Probably because they've kept some social media profiles unlinked. Hm.

But back to the queasies….Owyang’s point is that the profiling is now going to happen in ways even more intrusive, annoying, sobering (in how unimportant you are), and possibly outright insulting (“no, you’re not important, you don’t get this offer, ever!”) than we are currently, sometimes grudgingly, used to. And one of the examples that really struck me was the article on a marketing guy who lost out on a job because he had a low Klout score. Although, I’m thinking that perhaps the problem wasn’t low Klout score so much as the fact that he didn’t know what Klout was – even though he was in marketing.

Still, I don’t relish the idea of being told I don’t qualify because I score really low on an algorithm that may or may not fully tell the picture of who I am and what I can do. Especially if it’s all based on what I’ve chosen to share, or not. I think reducing people to a score, when not reductive and insulting, is simply unwise – regardless of industry. We’re people and one size does not fit all, and some things are not well measured in numbers and ratios, no matter how much very very smart people sweat the details of the algorithm. And no, I don’t think that because I think we’re so precious and special that we can’t be mathematized. We probably can – if you can account for every single unpredictability of the human race. That’s a tall order even for the staunchest machines, which ultimately go by math a person invented and implement somewhere down the line.

None of which means I shouldn’t know what a Klout is on the series of pneumatic tubes that is the Interwebs, or how influential it is whether or not I’m on it. Which goes to a larger point about the digital profiling: You can opt out of the digital world, you can pooh pooh it, find it annoying, trivial, and despise it all you want. But know that it’s increasingly part of the puzzle people use to figure us out at first blush. And if you’re not gonna play the game, have your talking points ready. Don’t be the guy who faltered because he didn’t know what the Klout score was. Be the guy who doesn’t care if he has a low score or doesn’t show up on a Google search, because you did your interview prep and you are more than what the web says you are.

* I flatly refuse to use the term “thought leader” on my own blog.