Unvarnished: Where Even Mother Teresa Would Worry

Mar 31, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

What do you think of doing a performance review in public and posting the written evaluation online? And then inviting people to contribute their own opinions and vote on the review, in the interest of being fair and balanced?

Raise your hand if you think this is a good idea. I see no hands. Wait, there’s one. Thank you St. Dymphna. The rest of you, however, should stay away from Unvarnished.

This is a new site, just launched this week into private beta. It describes itself as “an online resource for building, managing, and researching professional reputation, using community-contributed, professional reviews.”

TechCrunch, which reviewed the site yesterday, calls it “Yelp for LinkedIn.”

Personally, I call it trouble.

And judging from the 257 comments (as of this writing) posted to the article, most readers seem to agree.

Now that I’ve poisoned the well, let me tell you what Unvarnished is. It’s what LinkedIn would be if the interface was a bit less rigid and anyone could anonymously post anything about you they wanted and you had no ability to edit or remove it.

TechCrunch has a screen capture of one person’s reviews. TechCrunch has politely blacked out the name of the individual about whom one reviewer says, “Never worked directly with (name obscured), but have worked seen (sic) firsthand the outcomes of her management and business acumen. If you can, avoid working with her.”

The other review is no better.

If you were backgrounding candidates for a short list, would she be on it?

What! You’ve made a decision based on the anonymous reviews knowing nothing else about this person? Me, too. And that’s exactly the danger, as plenty of those posting comments to the TechCrunch have pointed out.

As more than a few of those comments point out: Human nature tends to focus on the negative. Or, as one poster elegantly writes, “Emotions take over and a tiny crumb of anecdotal evidence outweighs a mountain of statistics every time.”

Site co-founder Peter Kazanjy insists that a maligned individual can counter the negative reviews by claiming their profile and adding their own comments. They can also get their friends to write positive reviews and vote down the negative comments.

“That individual can reach out to his network, of his fan base, essentially, to make sure his professional reputation looks like that which he would like it to look like. But at the same time he can’t necessarily take down reviews he’s unhappy with,” Kazanjy explains in a TechCrunch video.

So fairness and balance become, on Unvarnished, a matter of brute force. If you can muster more firepower to soldier on your behalf than can your opposition, you win the reputation war. Observers can still look over the battlefield, but victory is yours.

Except as a recruiter or a prospective employer, do I even want to bother with the whiff of taint?

In fairness to Unvarnished, truly defamatory or libelous comments can be challenged and removed. Nor are reviewers completely anonymous; they login via Facebook Connect, which makes them knowable at some level, even if not publicly.

There are other safeguards, thin perhaps, but there’s at least some effort to slow down those with personal vendettas.

After you take a look at the site and read the TechCrunch article, I’d be interested in hearing your opinion. Is Unvarnished a site you would use either to promote your own brand and reputation or to background candidates? What do you think?

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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