Over the past couple of weeks, both online and offline discussions have focused on a new site that pledges to help the digital community “engage in balanced, candid, and respectful conversations about the professional reputation of other business professionals.” Unvarnished, recently launched in an invitation-only, beta version, allows users to supply anonymous professional feedback about the performance of colleagues, managers, clients, or just about anyone else.
Unvarnished seeks user reviews to provide firsthand insight into the professional reputation of individuals, with an eye to guiding hiring and other business decisions. Early online conversations leveled heavy criticism at Unvarnished and the idea of anonymous reviews of individuals. Pundits warned that Unvarnished amounted to nothing more than a breeding ground for libelous activity and that the user community could not be trusted. Granted, users must be mindful of libel, but it seems doubtful that Unvarnished represents the opening of a digital Pandora’s box.
Unvarnished may target a new segment, but is not a new concept. As a basic course of business, today’s consumer routinely looks to online reputation sites to inform on a wide-range of choices from restaurants, vacation destinations and airlines to grocery stores, cars and hotels. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor come immediately to mind. Other sites like RateMyProfessors.com and Angie’s List do the same for individuals and their professional reputations.
The Wall Street Journal Digits blog recently interviewed one of Unvarnished’s co-founders, who argued that the site will facilitate increased transparency by promoting open reputation commentary in a public forum. The site allows individuals greater access to monitor what people truly think of their performance, and enables people to respond to commentary when appropriate. Co-founder Peter Kazanjy contends that Unvarnished will truly advance the quality of reputation discourse, encouraging open and honest dialogue.
Will some users cross the line? Sure. To prevent commentary from devolving into useless (and potentially damaging) prattle, Unvarnished formulated a series of community guidelines and will deploy mechanisms to monitor suspicious activity.
A site like Unvarnished reinforces the idea that every person needs to guard reputation closely and treat it like a valuable personal brand. It also highlights the notion that there are no secrets in a digital world.