The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth, So Help Your Reputation

Over the weekend, Mike Arrington put up an interesting op-ed on the state of the reputation on the Internet — and Techcrunch then followed up with a fairly negative review of a site ( GetUnvarnished.com) that just launched. The gist of the posts is that these sites will primarily become scaleable defamation platforms, and if Arrington is right, we all need to hope that society learns to disregard indiscretions.

Surely, on today’s Internet, we’re all potential victims of some “wingnut” saying something horrible about us, or some random picture of some indiscretion making it to the Internet and ruining our careers. The problem is that any and all information that ever existed is making it to the Net. Compounding the problem is the existence of the real-time web, its exploding communities of people sharing all of their thoughts and uploading content at will. What we’re quickly finding is that in some regards the Internet acts as a cesspool of information where lies and libel can ruin people’s reputation. And even with regards to legitimate, accurate content about people or entities, the Net is becoming too noisy for the crisp signal that we’re actually looking to get from it.

But what happens when an accurate, high signal-to-noise reputation system for people rolls out? A service designed to take in all the public information about a person, encourage reviews of that person, sift through and moderate each profile toward the most accurate picture of that person (including progressive moderation that has a slight lean toward empathy of the reviewed). The value could be huge. HR departments already check criminal history before hiring, but what if they could get an accurate picture of someone’s reputation in the workplace? What if, before you did a meeting with someone you didn’t know, you had a tool that went far beyond a simple Google search, and had lengthy reviews of that person across all his colleagues, partners, bosses, employees? You knew his weaknesses and strengths, and what to watch out for in a partnership with him.

What would happen is that this hypothetical site would take off. The value it provides its users would be huge, and it would quickly become a *necessary* tool for professionals. But it would only be valuable as long as it can do a great job of providing *accurate* information and reputation scoring. Why? Because a reputation site that has a bad reputation itself is worthless. What long-term value is a site which has a reputation of being an information cesspool?  It gets old, becomes a lame gossip site, and I move on (like the unmoderated financial/stock commenting sites).

Now some of us may hate that all of this information gets out there, that all of these reviews are so easily created, that we are so exposed to the public… that cheating on a wife, or a business colleague no longer can happen in the dark, but hyper-transparency is the world we are increasingly living in and we all better get used to it.  The silver lining is that services pedaling hate, libel, and gossip will be marginalized as forms of entertainment if they’re lucky or will whither altogether. There is simply too much value (and revenue oppty) in accurate reputations for the inaccurate ones to keep up.

The sites/services/platforms in this category that win are those that turn the real-time noise into something valuable.  The services that can provide the most accurate view for the consumers of the reviews–along with some level of empathy and recourse for the reviewed–will win.  All data will be out there, and truth shall ultimately win, because truth is so much more valuable than falsehoods.  Add to that a comfortable place for the reviewed to interject “their side of the story”, and the service becomes the trustworthy truth and accountability platform.

So what about Arrington who says reputation is dead, and that society will change to accept indiscretions? I think what Arrington was really saying was that managing reputation by omission of facts is dead. But I think that reputation is anything but dead, and instead will become more important than ever. With more data and info getting on the net, and as the tools to decipher fact from fiction get better, reputation becomes more accurate, and significantly more valuable. We can, fortunately, breathe a sigh of relief that value is in fact and not in fiction; that hating, and libel and lies get pushed out b/c of their relative paucity of value. But we are fooling ourselves into thinking that indiscretions will be completely forgotten–the best case is that the most common indiscretions get pushed off the indiscretion list. Its just that those of us that are adults right now are carrying an old belief that what happens in the past stays there. That’s a luxury that is about to die and we all better get used to it.

6 responses to “The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth, So Help Your Reputation

  1. the truth shall set you free.

    it’s time we start embracing this change. i really can’t see how someone can say rep is dead…rep is just as important as it ever was, it’s just more accessible now.

  2. Seems interesting, but there’s nothing on getvarnished now except a facebook login. I don’t feel like clicking that yet.

    Also, just so you’re aware, there are already other new reputation services such as http://www.dirtyphonebook.com which have an even better spin on the anonymity theme.

  3. We need to stop and ask ourselves some questions in regards to these sites.

    First, give 15 people the opportunity to see the same event, experience it in the same way and you will get 15 different truths. We see this everyday in our lives from accident reports to sporting events. In sports one person sees a flagrant penalty, the one down 10 yards see a good clean play; now which then is the truth?

    Second, opinion is the passing of judgment, who are we to judge what another does as we can never walk in their shoes to know if we would of or would not of done the same thing.

    The comment of what you believe someone has done to you, clearly is not the same as though another would of reacted.

  4. Darla, my guess is that there will be a bunch of personal reputation systems that come out. The one that wins is the one that is the most accurate, and itself, has the best reputation as a reputation site. GAME ON!

  5. Andy, sounds almost as complicated as rating a restaurant.

    Sure, there will be a difference of opinion on the same dish, err i mean person. The bottom line is that you want each review to bring something meaningful to the party, and in the aggregate for the reputation to be able to answer simple questions like, “Does he have a good track record at selling enterprise software?”, or “Do customers like his approach to customer support?”

    The good ones will stand out, and the reputation system that wins, will do the best job at answering questions like the ones above.

  6. Sorry, Travis, but I disagree with your take on Unvarnished. Perhaps someone will develop a good reputation system, but Unvarnished is not the site.

    The flaw in their system is that there is nothing to stop someone from posting statements that are inaccurate and damaging. Nothing.

    Your comparison to Yelp is apt. Two years ago, I found Yelp to be pretty useful because foodies wrote truly witty and insightful commentary about food quality, wine selection, etc., but gradually it has become overrun with bitchy commentary from people who didn’t like their waiter or who had to wait too long for a table. Now, you might say, “Well that’s good information to know, and let the truth come out.” Problem is, these are one-off incidents that are unlikely to repeat, and therefore they are essentially useless to anyone who might come next. Google reviews of shops are even worse.

    The problem: a disgruntled person with an axe to grind is highly motivated to ventilate. But happy contented customers really have very little motivation to write a review. As a result, these sites tend to degrade over time because of the gradual accumulation of negative commentary about one-off situations and circumstances that just aren’t relevant to anyone else.

    I cannot imagine how or when I would use Unvarnished. I certainly wouldn’t trust anonymous reviews for any candidate I was considering hiring. Nor would I care to invest a great deal of my time writing an anonymous review. And having visited the site a few times, I cannot imagine why I would ever return.

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