How algorithms rule our world, Klout doesn’t know Tolkien and why care you should

I have been working on developing a social media campaign in recent months to support my continuing work here at the Tolkienist. Although the number of articles is still small, the scope of what I would like to do is vast and I am very glad to see how many fellow Tolkienists from all over the world are happy to share their expertise and experiences all around Middle-earth. And while I was reading some articles on the web, learning more about social media ‘credibility’ I somehow linked the question of algorithms with something that happened a few months ago: Klout removed J.R.R. Tolkien from its roster of topics.

Now, you might be asking yourself ‘who or what the hell is Klout?’ It calls itself the “standard for influence” and is a web service which determines by way of a secret algorithm how influential you are in social media. And this is business, so to speak, as modern day media is becoming ever more ‘social and mobile.’ Again, you might say, what do I care about social media or a company whose software puts together in bits and bytes how your credibility looks like in the digital world?

Well, you won’t probably realise this but algorithms and the social media put together kind of influence everything you can or cannot do in this day and age. When it comes to money an algorithm will probably decide whether you can buy a new mobile phone, a car or a house. Google search has become one of the major avenues into how we receive and understand information and this is, of course, an algorithm (shaping our thinking.) What you do in a social network such as Facebook can be used to determine your intelligence or sexuality, whether you are worth hiring or because of the immense peer pressure it has been building by its success may even force you to join so as not to be suspected a criminal (which really is idiotic but you get the drift.) Have a look at this amazing TED talk by Kevin Slavin and you’ll even better understand the dangers (and, of course, opportunities) of algorithms – like the Flash Crash of 2010 (which to me sounds like the Oracle from the Matrix going head-to-head with Agent Smith’s share selling software.)

Now, Klout is one the companies trying to establish itself as a juror of your social media abilities. As a user you allow Klout access to your social media presences and they, in return, judge the amount of material you put out and the reactions to it on the basis of their own algorithm. I’m at 64 (out of 100) which isn’t bad at all but still miles away from changing worldwide policies with a simple tweet. And one of the reasons I joined this service at the time was that your influence would be judged by the topics you chose for yourself in which you wanted to be “judged”, i.e. you can say you’re a great guy on Beyoncé, Facebook and quantum physics. What topic did I go for? Tolkien research, of course. 🙂

However, in November 2012 Klout revamped its service and dropped this particular topic.

We have revamped our topic system and updated our topic database and cleaned up/improved topics that we felt needed some improvement. Unfortunately, some topics were removed from user’s profiles, such as Tolkien research (…) [Email from Klout Contact]

When I recently checked whether this topic was still not available I made some really nice and entertaining findings I would like to share with you. I started looking for new topics to add and did some of the usual searched.

Add topic on Klout: Tolkien

Add topic on Klout: Tolkien

Every time you try to add a topic you get four different options. I don’t really know how those options are found but they seem to be pretty much based on similarities – or not? Why on earth two cities turn up (Kiel in Germany and Kiev in Ukraine) – except for the obvious similarites in the last letters of [Tol]KIEN’s (KIEL/KIEV) name – is beyond me. I like the idea of “walking” as a topic with the Professor as he surely appreciated this (as his friend C.S. Lewis) but “Scientology”, again, is something which I cannot explain, except for the fact the letters “ien” and “to” are in it.

Add topic on Klout: J.R.R. Tolkien

Add topic on Klout: J.R.R. Tolkien


When I saw how Klout seemed to be looking for “relevant topics” *coughcough* I thought I should try it with the initials as well. To my surprise those findings where even more hilarious. A.R. Rahman is a very succesful Indian composer; Da’ T.R.U.T.H. an American Christian rapper; J.R. Rotem is an American producer and song writer and Dr. Phil – don’t even mention him. Walter Tango Foxtrot? However, it didn’t stop there. I then started looking for Tolkien’s most famous publications.

Add topic on Klout: Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Silmarillion

Add topic on Klout: Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Silmarillion


True enough: ‘Hobbit’ is a topic on Klout (with options: Hobbies, Lobbies, Hobby Lobby), ‘Lord of the Rings’ is not a topic (with options: Legend of the Seeker – thanks, Craig; the Risk, Game of Thrones (conspiracy!), TV on the Radio) and ‘Silmarillion’ is not a topic (with options: Who wants to be a Millionaire?, Chamillionaire, Nathan Fillion (conspiracy!), Slumdog Millionaire.) ‘The Hobbit’ recently came out as a film, the others not. What do you think?

I suspected a conspiracy by fans of other fandoms ( –> this is a joke! <– ) so I went and looked for some other well-known names. ‘Game of Thrones’ you have already seen, the TV series based on ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by George R.R. Martin. And this is when I truly believed in a conspiracy theory. Films and television, yes – but authors?

Add topic on Klout: Martin, both ways

Add topic on Klout: Martin, both ways

Searching for ‘George R R Martin’ will leave you with George Soros (money, money, money), George Sampson (from ‘Britain’s Got Talent), George Michael – and George Lucas. There you go! And looking for GRRM will at least give you ‘Grimm’ which has some sort of tenuous link with fantasy literature (and a very good one, actually, with Tolkien) as well as CRM, Digital Rights Management and Farms. Aha.

And what about J. K. Rowling who shot to fame and fortune with her ‘Harry Potter’ series? The same thing here.

Add topic on Klout: Rowling and Harry Potter

Add topic on Klout: Rowling and Harry Potter

The author has disappeared behind the films. Yes, ‘Harry Potter’ is a topic, followed by options as Harry Styles (member of boyband ‘One Direction’), Harry Reid (possibly the Scottish author and journalist) and Pottermore, the online attempt at making ‘Harry Potter’ last for fans (and which has not really worked.) J. K. Rowling cannot be found, rather it is about bowling, Klingon, Rowing or Curling. Rather sporty, there.

Now, one could possibly argue this Klout thing is about judging somebody’s social media presence. Tolkien has been dead almost fourty years now, J.K. Rowling does tweet every couple of months and George R.R. Martin is so old-school he does not really bother. However, as I said before, as social media become ever more important to everyday life, particularly to new generations of readers, it is quite obvious the whole concept of an author as a writer of books and the only important person to talk about has come and gone. Nowadays, films and television series in cooperation with a digital flood of audiovisual material and the fact everyone can share this has led to a supremacy of these channels of distribution. So it is quite logical for something like Klout to look for those topics which are ‘relevant’, i.e. the biggest, the loudest, the ones shared most in social media. ‘#votebilbo’, the hashtag winning this year’s MTV Movie Awards category ‘best hero’ for Bilbo Baggins (from the films, obviously) showed that a film-related topic can get many people to vote for it but I don’t think the hashtag #tolkien will garner that much interest (this contest showed the future of online participation: tweet bots, mass tweets by major players using their powers to increase their online presence but also some very creative ideas on how to promote an online sujet – by fans.)

Enter ‘Hobbit’ as a search term in Google. With me the film trilogy is already well above any book mentions – and the films aren’t even finished yet. Times, they are a-changing.


UPDATE: Thanks to the suggestion of Vivien Stocker (merci bien pour ca) I quickly checked the authors listed on Wikipedia’s page of best-selling books selling more than 50 million copies; this list was used for no other reason than having a quick look at some relevant names. [tabs slidertype=”top tabs” auto=”no”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Authors listed on Klout[/tabtext] [tabtext]Authors not listed on Klout[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab]Ernest Hemingway; William Shakespeare; Dan Brown; Paulo Coelho; Napoleon Hill.[/tab] [tab]Charles Dickens; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; Agatha Christie; C.S. Lewis; J.D. Salinger; Ellen G. White; Vladimir Nabokov; Johanna Spyri; Benjamin Spock; Lucy Maud Montgomery; Anna Sewell; Umberto Eco; Jack Higgins; Richard Adams, Cao Xueqin.[/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]  


A Tolkien fan for twenty-five years (and more to come...) Founding chairman of the German Tolkien Society, Co-Founder of Ring*Con, Co-Founder of the ITF, host, presenter and fantasy expert

13 Responses

  1. It’s sad; these changing times. 🙁

    • Not all changes are sad; I do believe that there are a lot of things which have turned out better. However, when it comes to literature and how we have seen it for quite some time, the appreciation of an author and his or her work – this is most definitely changing. Sad, indeed.

      • I warned a long time before the first movie was going to be released that this change was bound to happen! It is so sad to see a complete generation ripped of the fact that authors write this stuff and can only enjoy it on the screen. Guess it was going to happen anyways and it is just a sign of our time! But people sooner or later there will be a change that leads back to the books, since internet is fine but so much knowledge is not getting through and left on the shelves. Once people realize this and a hunger for ‘more’ is getting too big (with the ever faster evolution of things) this is bound to bring younger generations back to the sources! It is us that will be amazed… let us enjoy the next decades!

  2. we need to get together one day! I’m (cough) quit the social media expert… might guide you on how to get your social media skills polished up a little. Klout, now at 75 myself, should try and add Tolkien and Tolkien research again real soon indeed, but when you look at who is up there under the topic “hobbit” you need to sit down and relax a little! At least we still have that topic… but looking at books or literature, how the hell are any normal people able to get there. I could tell you some tricks of course, but do we want to tamper with the system? No, Tolkien fans are honest people and so we just move around in our ‘natural’ hobbit way and move smaller stones and don’t throw big chumps of rocks. But little by little one travels far! Let us meet again and discuss it a little!

  3. TroelsForchhammer says:

    The same thing happened also with “scouting” as a topic on Klout – now they only support “Boy Scouts of America”, whose abominable anti-gay policy is so anti-scout that I will not in any way be associated with it.

    I had some grievances already about Klout (mostly to do with their algorithms), but with these changes (removing both Tolkien, Tolkien-research and scouting) I eventually realized that there was nothing for me in it — there is no room on Klout for the standard of integrity I set for myself, and so I deleted my account.

    • That is something I perfectly understand. When I searched for “Scouting” and only find the Americans I thought “what the hell?” There is an easy assumption to make, Klout being an American company, that they are using their influence to further spread the US influence into the ‘interwebs’ … However, this being the internet and social media I do think that pressuring them into accepting relevant topics is something we can do and should do. Even if you don’t want to be on Klout, supporting our attempt to get “Tolkien back on the menu” (‘orrible film puns, ‘fanks very mudge’) would be great – retweeting or just this, commenting on this post! It is a huge help, indeed!

  1. 14. May 2013

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  2. 9. August 2013

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