Reputation Management Online
You would really have to have your head in the sand to not have heard about the current controversy over reviews online, most specifically with sites like Yelp which has been accused of everything from extortion to fraud. It’s spawned the next generation of smarter services who are learning from the lessons of the companies that went before them to come up with a new breed of recommendation engines.
Take a site like AlikeList for example. They take personal recommendations from individuals for businesses just like Yelp did, but unlike Yelp, AlikeList users curate their own lists of likes and businesses they want to try. Users can see what businesses their friends in their trusted network have reviewed. There’s more transparency. That might even make for a little more accountability. They also make a concerted effort to be positive and discourage negative comments.
On the more personal side there’s Unvarnished. This site provides a place for you to leave reviews of business associates as individuals rather than a company. Users are asked to rate a person’s job and relational skills and leave a short review. The difference between a recommendation here and on a site like, say, Linkedin? On this site you can tell the unvarnished truth about someone because your review is anonymous. The idea being that people are more likely to give a genuine review if they don’t feel constrained by you looking over their shoulder.
Needless to say this scares the daylights out of some people. Unvarnished’s founder, Peter Kazanjy points out that unlike some other reviews you do have the opportunity to respond to a negative review, and if you make a good case your reviewer can edit their review after posting. He says that in fact this has happened on more than one occasion. Even if it’s a positive review your opinion may change some day right? “Trying to map online what really happens in the offline world. Your opinion of a person changes over time and with new knowledge. You should be able to remediate.” says Kazanjy.
According to Kazanjy there are little storms of activity as new users find the site and review their co-workers within a company. Currently the site is in beta and you can only get in if you are invited to review someone. As one person adds their reviews they’re encouraged to review others and invite their Facebook friends to review them. So the cycle begins. Thousands of new members are joining and writing reviews and they’re still in beta. Not bad for a site that launched in March.
So far (knock on wood) the reviews I’ve written and seen for myself and other users are mostly positive. The site is set up to avoid some of the pitfalls encountered by previous sites where the users quickly figured out how to game the system to get more positive reviews for themselves. For example all users are verified Facebook users and connect through Facebook connect. If you created a new user just to increase your positive reviews Facebook would probably flag it and the algorithms in the system would most likely connect that the fake account had only one friend on Facebook and it was you..
Where will it go from here? Once it’s out of beta and fully searchable it could have a pretty big impact on your personal reputation and potentially your next job. Or your current one. It could also tell you a lot about the corporate culture within a company. If there’s a lot of unhappiness in the staff or one huge curmudgeon, you may hear it here first. You’ll also be able to identify the companies where people are happy and learn more about the staff before you go into the interview.
Initially–because you have to invite people to interview you–most reviews are positive. After all you wouldn’t invite them to review you if you didn’t think it would be good right? I expect there will be some ugliness, but hopefully users of Unvarnished will be professional and not degrade into a “nicely indexed burn book” as Techcrunch suggests or “a viral way to talk about people behind their backs” as InternetSafetyCom suggested on their Facebook page..
We’ll see. Like most of the early adopters on the site I’ve got some nice reviews and it feels good. Of course I asked them to review me and I’d be surprised to get flamed. Even if I do though, I’d rather be on the inside first and see a bad review than have somebody say something nasty that I didn’t know about or have a chance to respond to. Wouldn’t you?
How to try it
If you want to try Unvarnished you need an invitation to write a review from someone who is already in, or you can add your name to the waiting list. Take a look at your friends profiles and see if any are talking about Unvarnished (this ain’t Fight Club), or hey, if you want to say something nice, connect with me on Facebook and I’ll hook you up.