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Identity & Technology

Online Reputation Is Not Easy

 Reviewing your peeps is hard because you don't always know who is talking.

Reviewing your peeps is hard because you don't always know who is talking.

We have always been interested in online identity and its intersection with online reputation. We've always maintained that reputation and reviews are meaningless without identity, because you can't trust reviews from anonymous people. A recent start up called Peeple attempted to launch a "person review" app that would allow you to review people the same way you review products. One of the "features" of the app was that you could review people who weren't even using the app. For example, I could start a review of Justin Bieber, talking about how I don't like his music and then other people could pile on or disagree. The Internet backlash was quite extreme even by Internet standards. The Peeple app was the first time I have ever heard of a new app on TechCrunch and then saw both Fox News and The View talking about it the same day. The Washington Post wrote a HILARIOUS view of what Peeple would look like in the context of Beauty and the Beast.

I was skeptical about the app because, of course, it didn't have strong identity. But even if it had, the type of problem they are trying to solve is very complex and fraught with problems. A recent Gizmodo article highlighted some of the challenges with this kind of app, even in the best of cases. To summarize:

Does Peeple Help With Due Diligence?

Many people are accustomed to performing due diligence on new products now - they will check out Amazon (or other reviews) to determine whether a product is good or not. (of course, we disagree with the value on online reviews, but that is a different story)  However, an online review is usually clear - if you are looking at a broom, does it actually sweep up dirt?  However, people are much, much more complex. If Sally has a review that says she is a good friend, what does that say about her ability as a babysitter? It is very hard to map a review of a person from one context to another, and the contexts of people are innumerable.

Does Peeple Provide Useful Information?

If we constrain ourselves to similar contexts, how well does Peeple work? If Sally is a fun person to have on a date, that should translate, right? Well, it turns out that people can make judgments about other people in periods as short as 6 seconds, and those judgments are very resistant to change. Humans have a fantastic ability to synthesize very small amounts of information into a quick judgment and action, but of course those judgments are not always right. I know plenty of people who love movies I hate and vice versa. How much can I trust a stranger's six-second evaluation of someone I don't even know?

Will the Lack of Anonymity Make People Behave?

Peeple had a "real name" policy like Facebook's real name policy. In our view, that is not real identity, but never mind that for now. It is well established that anonymous people behave badly, but the converse of that is not necessarily true - identified people do not always behave well. The author makes the point that being able to hide behind a computer screen is a form of anonymity, and that people will behave almost as poorly (mean reviews, personal attacks, etc.) as if they were anonymous. We agree with the supposition - identifying people is not what makes them behave well, accountability makes them behave well.

Reviews of people have been around forever, as early as when Grog the caveman started talking smack about Oog the caveman. Eons of evolution have not helped us to develop a fair, clean, and honest way to "review" other people, and it is pretty unlikely that an app is going to solve this problem.