I have to admit, when I first saw Unvarnished, the anonymous people review site, I was very concerned. It didn’t really solve a problem I had. In fact, it seemed to create one. I saw it as a problem I now needed to deal with. As soon as I got my invite, I started requesting reviews from people I knew would give me a good recommendation—just so I could pad my score to protect against the inevitable driveby.
You see, I’m in the business of saying no. I say no to people about 95% of the time—people who have invested their time, money, and emotions into something. At some point, someone is going to be upset about it. It is going to happen.
What turned me is a review that I got the other day:
“Skill: 8, Productivity: 8, Relationships: 10, Integrity: 9
Knows everyone in NYC tech. Not sure whether his "direct communication style" is a positive or a negative, but you always know where you stand with Charlie. An asset for whatever venture firm he ends up at.”
You know what? That’s pretty fair. I took that as, “Charlie is a great guy, but he doesn’t pull any punches, so expect honest feedback you might not want to hear.” I’m pretty impressed with any site that is able to generate such useful feedback from users. Compare that with the recommendations on LinkedIn—they’re utterly useless. They’re all general and glowing, because no one would ever even step in the direction of being constructively critical. If you wrote a review on LinkedIn that was anything but 100% positive, you’d be creating a rift between you and the other person—one you might not have the time or patience to deal with.
There are a lot of people in our lives who you may have some small issue with that isn’t worth making a big in person deal over, but that you’d mention if asked—so long as you could insalate yourself against them showing up at your door or your inbox with the “What the fuck? I thought we were cool.” response. Now I can say that I think someone is pretty solid, except that they can’t be counted on for one particular thing.
That’s pretty reflective of what happens in real life—and that’s the feedback that people want to know. Everyone has a flaw or a weak spot—we all know that. People just want to know what it is so that they can figure out if they can deal with it or not. Someone might not be detail oriented. That’s fine if that’s not what I’m counting on them for. Maybe they can’t scale a site past a million uniques—fine if they’re the founding CTO.
On top of that, the interwebs can write about me anytime I want. In a way, Google is Unvarnished—or at least could be. I pad my reputation positively on the web, too—by contributing and participating in public conversation in a professional manner. That still doesn’t mean that someone can’t rip on me, and force me to respond.
What I’m not likely to do is completely rip on someone—because I know that the site knows who I am and that I’m exposing myself to libel if I do. That keeps the worst offenders in check.
I love services that cause me to change my mind—hating something when I first hear about it, but then seeing it live or having it explained to me and convincing me otherwise. Is there a business here? I think so, but it’s not a sure bet. You’d have to come up with a model that doesn’t effect the quality of the reviews or mess with that ecosystem—like charging me to hide reviews or something. Would recruiters pay to see this stuff? Perhaps, but they’d only use it as a directional indicator. They certainly wouldn’t outsource their vetting of a candidate to it.