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Society - Written by on Monday, May 3, 2010 9:54 - 4 Comments

Tim Bevins
Is “Unvarnished.com” an Internet inevitability?

I just heard about the site Unvarnished in Jeremiah Owyang’s daily email, and decided to check it out. It is still in beta. I think people need to read this page to draw their own conclusions about the site, its value, its purpose, and its processes, but I offer my own views here.

Here is a how the site describes itself:

“What is Unvarnished?

“Unvarnished is an online resource for building, managing, and researching professional reputation, using community-contributed, professional reviews.

“Unvarnished reviews help you get the inside scoop on other business professionals, providing candid assessments of coworkers, potential hires, business partners, and more.

“By contributing Unvarnished reviews, you can share your knowledge of other professionals, giving credit where credit is due, and valuable feedback where needed.

“Lastly, your own Unvarnished profile, which you may create yourself or claim one that has been created for you, helps you take control of and build your own professional reputation. Get recognition for your accomplishments and actively manage your career growth.”

Here are a couple of phrases that jumped off the “About” page for me (emphasis added):

  • “To help reviewers be honest and candid in their reviews, Unvarnished obscures the identity of review authors. This lets reviewers share their true, nuanced opinions without fear of repercussions.” (I have to wonder how nuanced anonymous reviews will be.)
  • “An Unvarnished profile can be created either by an individual for themselves or, alternatively, by an individual for another professional, in order to review them.” (The ability for an anonymous person to set up a profile of a colleague or former colleague to contribute a review seems disingenuous. If I have something positive to say about a colleague, I’d want to put it on LinkedIn or another public site with my name attached so the other person would benefit.)

Unvarnished presents itself as a way “professionals can take control of and build their professional reputation. Profile owners can manage and build their reputation, by receiving notifications of new reviews, requesting reviews from trusted colleagues, adding resume details, and responding to reviews.”

IMO: It sounds a bit like LinkedIn, with a dark side: the potential for bullying and retaliation. I cannot see a reason why I’d want to set up a new profile for myself for anyone to “review” me anonymously. I cannot see a why a reputable potential employer would trust anonymous reviews, good or bad or in-between, more than reviews by people willing to give their names. Other reviews of the site can be found here, here, here, and here, but there seem to be dozens.

Unvarnished does have a Reviewer Authority scoring mechanism: “the quality of an individual revewer’s (sic) submissions, as rated by other Unvarnished users, contributes to a Reviewer Authority score, a badge for which is attached to each review by a given reviewer.” Personally, I don’t see why anonymous reviewers’ ratings of one another can create an “authority” score. How can one establish credibility as an anonymous reviewer?

Unvarnished, to me, is an inevitability of social media. It seems only logical that someone would formalize the process of anonymous “reviewing” of colleagues, present and former, for business. And my guess is, like morals, this kind of entrepreneurial approach to making a business out of bad manners cannot be legislated away. I can’t say how it will turn out, who will use it – I am not a likely user regardless of whether I might get trashed or praised there – and whether employers will tap into the unsubstantiated and anonymous reviews to make employment decisions. Most bad ideas for online sites die from lack of attention or nourishment – i.e., no traffic. But gossip (that’s what I think this will turn into) tends to have a strong pull.

My first take: People may feel forced to check up on themselves. Employers may feel tempted to see whether what they saw and heard from candidates with their own eyes and ears is accurate, but then that says more about their own skill at hiring than about the candidate.

I wonder whether writing this will prompt someone to open a profile for me. Guess that tells you more about me than Unvarnished, huh?



4 Comments

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Mike Dover
May 3, 2010 12:06

It won’t work, mostly for the reasons you mentioned.

People have good LinkedIn profiles because they spend time crafting and updating them. For an unvarnished profile to be rich, your anonymous critic would need to spend a lot of time on it…they would probably get bored or at least have difficulty remaining anonymous.

BTW, LinkedIn already provides an “unvarnished” service. Let’s say “James Jones” applies for work at your company. His LinkedIn profile shows that he worked at Widget Co. for four years and has three recommendations. To get the unvarnished recommendations, you just need to make a few clicks to find who else you know that was at Widget Co. at the time and ask them for a review.

Scott Chambers
May 3, 2010 18:43

It is an interesting idea but ultimately, an anonymous review is worthless. The reason LinkedIn has earned its reputability is the fact that there is a source for all information and you can fact check. I do not see how anyone could value unsubstantiated data, positive or negative. I would personally be worried about any organization that would value such information.

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Jake Torrence
Aug 11, 2010 5:10

I’ve been researching this and here is my conclusion as of August 2010:

Nobody in their right mind would want Unvarnished to even create a profile for them under such evil conditions. To stay off the radar, you wouldn’t sign on via Facebook. I believe they created a profile for me already because I can only begin to logon via my personal Facebook account. I say “begin to logon” because I am afraid to actually do so. I don’t want them to have an excuse to create a file on me if one doesn’t exist.

A site has no future if people don’t want to even have a profile.

If there is a profile for me, I won’t do anything to make it look better. It will be boycotted by everyone except maybe recruiters.

If comments left about me or others get onto Google, then this becomes serious. If comments remain searchable only from that site, then the site will die. Nobody will visit and nobody will care.

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