Humankind is Unready for Unvarnished

IStock_000006068825XSmallBy now you’ve read about Unvarnished, a site now in private beta that will allow people to post anonymous and irrevocable opinions about y-o-u online. 

The founders call these reviews “community-contributed, business-focused assessments of professional performance,” and suggest that “the quality of an individual revewer’s submissions … (will be) rated by other Unvarnished users,” ostensibly to ensure some level of fairness.

But let’s face it: the buzz around the service no doubt already has a swarm of haters on stand-by, ready to bash current and former colleagues and employers. 

If the service winds up being even a li’l bit popular, the relative importance of “quality ratings” for each reviewer will be insignificant: there will be too many one-off reviewers, telling too many unverifiable stories, to expect everyone else to judge the “quality” of a review. 

Instead, most everyone will simply dig into a schadenfreude sundae of bilious gossip. It’s human nature.  As Pete Blackshaw has shown us, “Satisfied customers tell three friends, angry customers tell 3,000.

The situation becomes even more perilous if you’ve been in business for a while. You can’t rise in a career without stepping on a few toes along the way — whether purposefully or unwittingly, most achievers have made a few enemies along the way.  Life is incredibly complex, especially the parts related to business and human interpersonal relationships, so this is bound to happen. 

I humbly consider myself to be “one of the good guys,” yet I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years: I rose through the ranks quickly (too quickly, by some people’s measures); I’ve fired underperformers and jerks; I’ve wielded the axe during layoffs.  You think the 90% of the time I’m a “good guy” will counter the 10% of the time I’ve been the “bad guy?”  I don’t think so.  Not on Unvarnished.com.  The mean stuff is gonna be way more fun to read about! 

And having even a li’l bit of fame will hurt you, too.  Poor Chris Brogan already gets scores of missives telling him that he’s “jumped the shark.”  Those are notes mostly coming from people willing to sign their name to their dark thoughts.  I imagine it will only get worse for nice guys like Chris who have inadvertently stepped on toes, occassionally over-scheduled themselves and disappointed others, and are just generally envied

Envy + anonymity + a keyboard + a global publishing platform = danger.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am too cynical.  Maybe I am too quick to suggest that anonymity = venom.  We’ll see.

But I wonder if Google will be indexing the content at Unvarnished.com?  I wonder how we’ll all start to feel about our “personal SEO?”

What do you think?  Are you eager to see the unveiling of the Unvarnished site?  If you are an employer, will it be a site you look to before extending an offer letter to a job candidate?  (Would you be able to resist??)



Posted on: April 9, 2010 at 9:50 am By Todd Defren
13 Responses to “Humankind is Unready for Unvarnished”

 

Comments
  • Jeff says:

    Couldn’t agree more with you, Todd. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think the anonymity is the worst part of the concept. Sites like Yelp encourage people to post pictures and some personal information about themselves so people don’t just create anonymous rants that could ruin a business. If you’re going to create a service like this, its important for people to be accountable for their reviews, and not just rely on the community.

  • Yingna li says:

    The feeling I hold toward this issue is completed mixed. It seems that this Unvarnished site is a bit like ratemyprofessor, where students could vent their anger on the professors they dislike overtly. I happened to view the site after a big exam, when a bunch of complaints show up under a professor’s name overnight just because he refused to curve the test score that students believed is unfair. Honestly, I shared the same feelings with my fellow classmates, but it’s also that test made me starts seeing him in a new way and think about taking another class with him (I used to dislike him). But I guess I didn’t care enough to leave a positive evaluation to counter those bad ones. And you are right. A site like this is a platform for verbal assault, and could become malice. It reminds me of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant who was the victim of school bully. Even after she took her own life this January, the gang did not give up insulting her. They wrote “accomplished” on her facebook page.
    At the meantime, I also find that a site like this provides rank-and-files a chance to voice their dissatisfaction. Last winter, I took an international airline from the United. The storm in Chicago prevented the national flights from arriving on line and results in 75 people missing the connecting international flight. The customer services staffers were so rude and impatient that neither do they bother to walk us through possible solutions nor arrange us a place to stay. They finally stuffed us on a plane the day after, and it turned out the engine was broken. What’s more ridiculous is not only did they leave the plane unfixed the next day, but they also threatened to take away our boarding pass had anyone keeps crying or complaining. We were stuck in O’Hare for three nights and did not even receive a sincere apology. My schedule was totally messed up and I was in big trouble. After all these, what I got for compensation was a discount. I’m neither aggressive nor vengeful, but were I familiar with those sites back then, I swear I would never let the United off the hook with no apparent lose.
    New ethical issues emerge as the technology accelerates its developing rate. There’s no existence of hackers 20 years ago, no dispute over clone or euthanasia at all. However, people don’t seem to lower their ethical threshold or stop searching for the balance point. The discussion here is a solid proof.

  • Couldn’t agree more with you, Todd. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think the anonymity is the worst part of the concept. Sites like Yelp encourage people to post pictures and some personal information about themselves so people don’t just create anonymous rants that could ruin a business. If you’re going to create a service like this, its important for people to be accountable for their reviews, and not just rely on the community.

  • Ciri haugh says:

    This is an interesting concept, especially since it looks like many media outlets are looking at moving away from anonymous comments on their pages. I read your post and then saw this article on the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/technology/12comments.html?src=tptw.

  • SKIP Sanzeri says:

    I agree.

    I have personally worked with more than a few small businesses who have been devastated by Yelp a similar complaint mechanism. In each case, one upset customer wrote a lengthy one star review lambasting the poor business for a mistake. We all make mistakes, and in most cases we can learn from them and get on with it. However, sites like yelp and Unvarnished are going to bring out the worst in human nature. Someone above said it correctly that we will take time to praise, but we will take much more time to be critical.

    The poor businesses that had bad reviews once or twice, of course at much fewer positive reviews. again, it’s not that they’ve done many more poor jobs, it’s just human nature where we don’t take time to go in and praise. One business had been around for 25 years and is now suffering. I would argue that any business that has been around 25 years probably has done a very good job. But if you read their yelp reviews, you might think different. So a couple people cost this business tends, or hundreds of thousands of dollars. oh, and by the way, the bad review was for an auto body repair shop where the customer, after a brand-new paint job, went out in drove in gravel ruining the paint job with a bunch of rocks hitting the fender. The woman was so upset she blamed the auto body shop and wanted the whole car repainted. How is it their fault when she goes and gets her car picked up by a bunch of rocks? Yet the review doesn’t state that, it just states that they did a horrible job on her car. And, this review can never get removed.

    As we all know, it’s easy to be a critic… Especially if you could be relatively anonymous and in many ways un-contactable. I fear for our younger generation, like my two sons, who are going to be in college over the next couple years. God forbid, they make one mistake or upset somebody who could ruin their reputation and have them unemployable as a result.

    I think these types of sites are insidious and need to go away. I’m hoping that employers are smart enough to realize that we are all human, and as a result we all do a variety of different things including some that are not so smart. The only thing that these sites do is expose, and magnify our worst parts, and the good things we do are then thrown out or hidden.

    I also wonder where the line is drawn between the right to free speech, and libel and slander. I would expect that a site like this could start defending itself in lawsuits where some potential employee could not get a job because of some post on this site. Whether it’s true or not is not even the point.

    this reminds me of the movie I just watched called “kill with me.” The movie is about a man who shows a live video cam of a person he’s put in a torturous situation. He rates his system so that the more viewers that come online to watch, the faster the person dies. So as online viewers increase into the millions, the poor captive, is put to death even more quickly by some rather dark mechanisms. While the movie itself is somewhat interesting, this study in psychology is true. A bunch of anonymous people out there getting their thrills while someone else suffers. I wonder how far everything will go.

  • SKIP Sanzeri says:

    I agree.

    I have personally worked with more than a few small businesses who have been devastated by Yelp a similar complaint mechanism. In each case, one upset customer wrote a lengthy one star review lambasting the poor business for a mistake. We all make mistakes, and in most cases we can learn from them and get on with it. However, sites like yelp and Unvarnished are going to bring out the worst in human nature. Someone above said it correctly that we will take time to praise, but we will take much more time to be critical.

    The poor businesses that had bad reviews once or twice, of course at much fewer positive reviews. again, it’s not that they’ve done many more poor jobs, it’s just human nature where we don’t take time to go in and praise. One business had been around for 25 years and is now suffering. I would argue that any business that has been around 25 years probably has done a very good job. But if you read their yelp reviews, you might think different. So a couple people cost this business tends, or hundreds of thousands of dollars. oh, and by the way, the bad review was for an auto body repair shop where the customer, after a brand-new paint job, went out in droves and rabble ruining the paint job with a bunch of rocks hitting the fender. the woman was so upset she blamed the auto body shop and wanted the whole car repainted. How is it their fault when she goes and gets her car picked up by a bunch of rocks? Yet the review doesn’t state that, it just states that they did a horrible job on her car. and, this review can never get removed.

    As we all know, it’s easy to be a critic. Especially if you could be relatively anonymous and in many ways un-contactable. I fear for our younger generation, like my two sons, who are going to be in college over the next couple years. God forbid, they make one mistake or upset somebody who could ruin their reputation and have them unemployable as a result.

    I think these types of sites are insidious and need to go away. I’m hoping that employers are smart enough to realize that we are all human, and as a result we all do a variety of different things including some that are not so smart. The only thing that these sites do is expose, and magnify our worst parts, and the good things we do are then thrown out or hidden.

    I also wonder where the line is drawn between the right to free speech, and libel and slander. I would expect that a site like this could start defending itself in lawsuits where some potential employee could not get a job because of some post on this site. Whether it’s true or not is not even the point.

    this reminds me of the movie I just watched called “kill with me.” The movie is about a man who shows a live video cam of a person he’s put in a torturous situation. He rigs his system so that the more viewers that come online to watch, the faster the person dies. So as online viewers increase into the millions, the poor captive, is put to death even more quickly by some rather dark mechanisms. While the movie itself is ok, the study in psychology is true. A bunch of anonymous people out there getting their thrills while someone else suffers. I wonder how far everything will go.

  • Will Hardie says:

    How can this site function without becoming a magnet for defamation lawsuits? It will be libel central.
    I suppose it depends if Unvarnished is considered a publisher responsible for content or a neutral platform. In any case, it will bring out the worst side in human nature and I can’t see it being very useful.

  • As time goes on, when I’m not feeling down, I pay less and less attention to the negative noise. Instead, I know that if I’ve really upset the apple cart, friends will throw rocks at me. THEY will be heard.

    Know what I mean?

    Is that the right way to do it? Not sure. Right way for brands to do it? Probably not.

    But for me? Works fine.

  • Jules Zunich says:

    Years ago, my former employer tried something similar to this so that “real” customer reviews of products could be posted for all to see. It turned into a client flame board in about 5 hours. I know this because I was tasked with monitoring the forum. Sales panicked and the board was taken down. Why? Only really pissed off people who received defective or late deliveries commented (over and over and over again – like how many different ladies at 123 Main St. did not receive their flowers on time on the same day?).

    Of course, no one logged on to say “Hey, good job XYZ Company for delivering my items on time.”

    I personally have a few people I would LOVE to expose for the frauds that they are, but I wouldn’t do that: it’s bad karma and other people need to figure things out on their own.

    Just because they I viewed someone as rude/crazy/unethical/lazy/whatever when I worked with them doesn’t mean they need to be branded as such for eternity. Who is to say I am right? Maybe they had a medical problem or a bad marriage and I just happened to show up during their mid-life crisis. I might think they are a jerk, but do I need to anonymously register on a website to “share” my experience with everyone???

    Yes, if I am an unprofessional, vindictive, bitch and I don’t have a life.

    But in one regard, I think Unvarnished will serve a great purpose: it will validate who is working and who is wasting their time gossiping online wearing anonymity as a cloak of bravery. I would never trust an anonymous review. Most people won’t. If you don’t have the nerve to say something straight up and put your name behind it, then don’t say it.

    And guess what? When I run out of things to do, I am going to hand out on Unvarnished and post wonderful comments about people just to balance out the bad comments.

    OK, you forced me to do this, Todd. My next blog post is going to be part two of my rant!

  • EdWard says:

    It’s actually a really good concept to rate people, but it sounds useless in business. You can’t use it in an office for its intended purpose without a discrimination lawsuit being thrown your way.

    As far as entertainment value goes, if its moderated as the owners claim it is, there’s no way it’ll be as entertaining as http://www.dirtyphonebook.com secrets being revealed.

    Still, I’m very interested to see what comes of unvarnished. I like the thinking here.

  • I have yet to come up with any redeeming qualities that I think would make this site useful, and in fact referred to it as the Juicy Campus for those who have been in the workforce for a while.

    How long before there are skeevy businesses springing up offering to add “balance” to the more popular profiles, for just $5 per response, etc.?

    Yes, people can do this to you now, on individual and anonymous blogs. But that doesn’t take into consideration the psychology of group behavior–when a few start piling on to a popular person’s profile, others will follow. And soon, you have an anonymous, slanted, trashed rep on a site that will “allow you to respond.” Gee, thanks, but I’ve always been told that if you muck around with pigs in slop, you’re going to get dirty yourself.

    I’ve tried playing the “how would I respond” scenario, and I just don’t know.

    I have a sinking feeling it’s going to be wildly popular.

  • According to Slideshare CEO Rashmi Sinha who I interviewed for On the Record…Online, the key to maintaining high quality B2B conversations online is attribution. Anonymity, according to her, is what destroys it.

  • Agreed. But there’s always another way to go about it: instead of trying to counteract the negative, lean into it.

    So you’re getting negative press on Unvarnished? Add to it. Instead of encouraging your friends to come to your defense, encourage your enemies to tell the WHOLE story. “What’s the worst thing I’ve ever done?” Make it a Machiavellian competition. Revel in the downside.

    We spend too much time convincing people that we’re perfect. Now we have the freedom to be assholes, and have that assholishness shared publicly. Instead of pretending to be an angel, make sure you have people writing the BEST bad shit about you.

    If you tip the scales so far in the negative direction that the wheels fall off completely, the whole venture loses its meaning, and we’re back to the part that matters: good reputation or bad, what can YOU do for ME?



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