Say you are in the mood for Vietnamese noodles… There are a ton of Vietnamese restaurants around, but you don’t know which ones are any good and don’t want to waste your money. What do you do?
Well, if you are younger than 90 and have working thumbs, you will probably consult Yelp. Yelp is a big deal, with over 83 million reviews and over 135 million monthly visitors. In the past few years, Yelp has become so popular that it’s becoming a verb (“You’ve been yelped.”)
But there is a dark side to this juggernaut… Though users appreciate unbiased reviews from actual customers, Yelp faces ongoing allegations of manipulated reviews for advertising purposes, as well as charges of extorting businesses into buying advertising, with a class action lawsuit filed in 2010. Though Yelp denies all of this, it receives about six subpoenas a month from targeted businesses.
Dubious practices aside, a grumpy reviewer can have a lasting impact on a business’s success. Maybe the reviewer was just in a bad mood, or having a bad day, or doesn’t happen to like pineapple in his garlic-fried rice. Maybe he just hit on the waitress and she turned him down, so now thousands of Yelp reviewers are going to read about the crappy service at Duc’s House of Noodles (not a real place).
Though business owners may struggle with bad reviews, many of which might be unfair, at least it’s not personal, right? Well, now it is…
Meet “Peeple,” a new application that allows users to give personal reviews and ratings to actual people. Scheduled to launch next month, Peeple will allow anyone and everyone to say almost anything about you. There is no way to opt out.
I say *almost* anything, because Peeple does have a couple rules: you aren’t allowed to swear or to disclose someone’s confidential medical condition. But apart from that, anyone off the street could write a review about you that millions of people will read. Sound like a good idea?
To me, this sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen. Sure, there are times such a thing could come in handy… this app could be like an awesome friend at a party, warning you away from the guy you are flirting with (“Girl, he is bad news. He just got three women pregnant and pretends he doesn’t know them.”) On the other hand, the reviewer could be that twitchy-eyed stalker you rejected, now out for revenge.
The scary thing is that folks are more willing to say and do horrible things when they feel unaccountable. Just think about how people act in cars: cutting you off, flipping you off, talking smack, and otherwise behaving in a ways they wouldn’t dare if you were standing right in from of them. Just think about the playground bullies and high school clique mentality that could be unleashed by an app with almost no accountability but potential access to everyone you know.
Hell, the sheer number of internet trolls out there should tip us off that some people are just plain mean. They don’t even need a personal grievance to be jerks.
And the implications reach further than your social life. A press release states, “This app will allow us to better choose who we hire, do business with, date, let babysit our kids, become our neighbors, roommates, landlords/tenants, and teach our children.” Developers Nicole McCullough and Julia Cordray clearly hope that your potential landlords, employers, and coworkers will be reading all about you.
What frightens me most, however, is that I will probably read it. Even when you don’t account for Schadenfreude, human curiosity is a powerful drive, and curiosity about other humans reigns supreme. There is a reason negative political advertising and reality television continues to thrive, despite how everyone talks about hating it… it works. People just can’t look away from a train wreck.
Peeple Rebrands Itself
In response to a massive backlash of criticism on social media, including death threats, co-founder Julia Cordray said that she will rebrand the app as a “positive only app,” which will “bring positivity and kindness to the world.”
Now, she’s claiming there will be no way to write negative reviews, since you will have to personally approve any review before it becomes visible on the platform. Her new goal? “I want the world to be positive and this is how I’m going to inspire it by creating the world’s largest positivity app.”
Awesome, except I’m not sure anyone will want to participate. Yelp wouldn’t be so popular if businesses could cherry-pick every review that it published, because that’s called “advertising.”
So now the developers are creating a giant advertising site with no actual content? Great. We’ll just sit back and see how that works out for them.