LinkedIn, TrustCloud, Klout and the Game of Plusses

Krispy Kreme donuts served at a party at LinkedIn headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Thursday, May 19, 2011. LinkedIn's s
Krispy Kreme donuts served at a party at LinkedIn headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Thursday, May 19, 2011. LinkedIn's stock is surging in its market debut on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. LinkedIn is the first major U.S. social networking company to go public. The company's service helps businesses find new employees and promotes networking among the more than 102 million people that have set up profiles. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

I was recently introduced to a new online social scoring application called TrustCloud, which claims to measure "virtuous online behaviors and transactions to build portable TrustScore." It claims that there's enough data available regarding our online transactions and personal interactions to accurately read patterns of "trustworthy behavior." At first, I was somewhat impressed that the company shares how it attempts to measure trustworthiness and that it seeks verification that I'm a real person and not a bot. Once logged in, however, I noticed a statement along the top navigation bar that read, "You have 6 +T" with a note directing me to offer +Ts to my friends as an endorsement of their trustworthiness. I banged my head on the desk in frustration, yelling "not another '+' rating scheme!"

I'm still reeling over the new LinkedIn Endorsement feature, commonly referred to as "+Ls," and am not sure I can handle being +ed again so quickly. It was as if I was living in some alternate universe similar to the HBO series Game of Thrones, except this universe was called the Game of Plusses and the warring families were social networks and scoring platforms such as LinkedIn, TrustCloud, Klout and Kred. After a year of being awarded +Ks and +Krs from random followers on various topics that have ranged from pink socks to social media to grey hair, I had to wonder if we were adding value to online engagements or simply dumping more +toxic waste in an already polluted ocean?

The Internet -- and social media in particular -- has become so convoluted with data and opinion that it's hard to know what is fact or fiction, what is relevant or irrelevant. LinkedIn was one of the last networks that offered relevance, context and credibility in the connections and methodologies. The professional recommendations and connections are dependable; I trust that the connections displayed are real and based on real business interactions. So when I ask for an introduction or a referral to someone in a colleague's network, I trust that it is a quality connection.

I trust that the written recommendations employers, colleagues and clients offer on LinkedIn are real. If someone is going to take the time to write a recommendation and post it publicly, I believe it's genuine. Plus, the feature requires the person writing the referral to declare their relationship to the person being referred during the time for which the referral is offered. That and the content of the written note offer me the ability to understand the nature of their relationship and the context of the referral, which allows me to judge if it's applicable to my needs or not.

Then, to reference another popular TV program, along comes Fonzie on his water skis, clad in his board shorts and leather jacket and jumps the shark. LinkedIn, following a disturbing trend among social networks and social scoring platforms to play on the vanity of users to increase site hits and duration-of-stay statistics, added its own + game. LinkedIn's Endorsement feature is a one-click confirmation of a person's self-declared and unverified experience, by anyone connected to that individual, regardless of their relationship. There's no context to the action nor verification that the person offering the endorsement is qualified to do so. So what's the value, other than to gamify the network to encourage greater traffic and thus generate more ad revenue?

Using a Hammer to Screw In a Nail

I see the need to cut through social media clutter, to add a sense of reality to the otherwise fantastical nature of the medium. I understand there is a lot of hype and a number of fake profiles that need to be reeled in. I acknowledge the difficulty that marketers experience in identifying influencers in a world where everyone is an influencer. There's more noise than substance in social media; I get it. We need a solution that brand marketers, executives and HR professionals can use to sort out who's really who out there.

But is a game really the way to do it?

TrustCloud got me interested with the claim that it looks at real, historical behavioral and transactional data to gauge my trustworthiness. As if the brainiacs behind TrustCloud don't read their own marketing material, they then add the ability for me to rate others' trustworthiness without any qualification or verification. So how can we take them seriously? Same with LinkedIn; the site used to be a leader, trustworthy and consistent. Now it's just another game.

Am I the only who believes that the Game of Plusses is only making the social media waters murkier? What do you think? Join the debate in the comment section below.

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's NMX BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social.