01 April 2010

Unvarnished Whuffie -or- "Nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada"

Gawker | Ryan Tate | The Completely Evil Social Network

Welcome to the ultimate distillation of all the most evil social networking practices to have emerged over the past couple of years: Unvarnished, a website where complete strangers can set up your "profile" and mock you before potential employers.

TechCrunch's Evelyn Rusli calls Unvarnished "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place For Defamation." That's clever and fun, but we think this cuts more cleanly to the chase of what Unvarnished really is: A digital extortion racket.

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But wait, there's more: Unvarnished also bullies you into joining. Anyone can set up a "profile" for you and start venting anonymous "feedback" about your career. You can eventually "claim" this profile, but only by joining Unvarnished. Get it? Join Unvarnished or have no control over your so-called "profile," complete with anonymous bitching underneath it.
Am I the only one who doesn't find Unvarnished particularly "evil"? Perhaps "unpalatable" or "rude" or "indecorous," but "evil"?  I'm not getting it.

Maybe it's because I see this as a specific instance of the fact that if you want to control your online reputation you need to be out there building it.  If you don't have a website or a blog or your resume online then your internet presence is going to be dictated by whatever strangers happen to say about you.

Or maybe I've just bought into Rothbard's notion that your reputation is composed of other people's opinions of you, and as such your reputation is not your property to control or defend but theirs, severally.  Either way I don't see the big deal.

I don't see how Urvarnished is bullying you to join.  If you want to influence any discourse then you have to sit down at the table with the rest of the participants and join in.  There's no discussion place in the world where you get to stand off to the side and demand that everyone else stop talking about you.  And as to "extortion" I don't see any indication that Urvarnished is charging a fee to join.

The world would be a largely better place if everyone's reputation preceded them.  Sometimes reputation isn't accurate or deserved, but them's the breaks. Unvanished isn't any different in this respect that the internet generally, or society as a whole.

The problem I see with Unvanished is that you need to incentivize people to post good reviews as well as bad, otherwise it's just a shouting match.  You'd probably also want people's reputation to be more heavily influenced by the opinions of others with good reputations, or take the opinions of people you respect to matter more highly when judging third parties.  But that's all implementation details.  Find a couple of a good social systems engineers and let them have at it.

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PS Unvarnished founder Peter Kazanjy leaves the following comment on the Techcrunch post:
[W]hat’s important, is for you to know how good a reviewer they are. Have their reviews been highly rated, across the site? Or have they been down-modded and marked as abusive? Have they left many reviews? What’s their review distribution?

All of this information accrues back to the reputation of the reviewer, which is then displayed to the reader, to help him differentiate between reviews that he should care about, and those that should be ignored.
So it looks like Urvarnished is doing some of the weighting and such that I mention above, but it's still in closed beta, so I don't know how much.

Kazanjy continues:
Challenge to you: do not use Yelp, Amazon product reviews, TripAdvisor, CarFax, or a credit report anywhere for the next year. What were the costs associated with that? Would you do it? No. You would use information that is available, weighed appropriately, to help drive decisions.
People love to be able to find out about other people's reputation and to influence it with things like Amazon product reviews, Amazon and eBay merchant feedback, TripAdvisor, etc., but they hate the idea that their reputation can become public. That's all this backlash is: public reputation is great, as long as it's someone else's.

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PPS Have you all read "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"?  It's a choice piece of writing.  Apparently one of Joyce's favorites, too.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for your meditation on this topic. You have nailed exactly how we're looking at this: as a neutral venue where all interests, reviewer, reviewee, and review-reader, are balanced. Thank you for taking the time to participate in this conversation in a reasoned way!

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  2. Sure, folks may say bad things about me on other random places on the internet, but those places have little or no credibility. If your site takes off, then the place itself has credibility and I am effectively coerced into dealing with the issue if someone creates a profile for me... It's this coercive aspect that I think people find troubling. I also think it's fairly likely to invite leftist governmental types to generate regulation.

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  3. Sure, folks may say bad things about me on other random places on the internet, but those places have little or no credibility.

    So it's okay if your reputation is public as long as it's in a forum that lacks credibility? Isn't that the opposite of what we want?

    I also think it's fairly likely to invite leftist governmental types to generate regulation.

    They may, but that's true of any new technological development. We shouldn't shy away from things just because the government may regulate it's use poorly.

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  4. No, you are misunderstanding my point. If unvarnished acquires a reputation for valid information, and someone slanders me there, I am forced to deal with it. What right has Mr. Kazanjy to impose this burden on others?

    There is an "attractive nuisance" aspect too -- folks who have trifling grudges might drop by the well known unvarnished site when they wouldn't have otherwise bothered to slander a person.

    The idea of the site compromises a person's right to be left alone -- posting information about one's self on the internet is one thing; when others do it, the possibility of slander arises. Not letting people remove this information seems to expose Mr. Kazenjy to legal action.

    I think the problem is summed up neatly by the author's admission that if people could take their profiles down, they would. What right has he to impose this negative externality upon me? None. None whatsoever.

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  5. I don't believe anyone has a right to prevent others from speaking about them. Having a right to not be spoken about obliterates the right of others to speak.

    The mere possibility of slander is always present in every form of speech. That is not sufficient in my mind to shut down a potential channel of communication. Of course people may want to remove their profiles, just as authors of badly reviewed books might wish to have the reviews unpublished.

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  6. PS Personally if other people are going to be speaking about me, I would actually prefer it to be in a central forum where I have the possibility of replying, and where their comments are tied to their own reputations.

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