In our modern world, where there are online reviews for everything from specific brands of ballpoint pen to specific shades of eyeshadow, buyer’s remorse should be a thing of the past. There are no mistakes; only lack of research.
Those who won’t go to a play, buy a new phone, or eat at an unfamiliar restaurant without reading what others had to say about their experience first might be early adopters of Peeple, a user-review site like Yelp – but for human beings.
Subtitled “character is destiny”, Peeple is an upcoming app that promises to “revolutionise the way we’re seen in the world through our relationships” by allowing you to assign reviews of one to five stars to everyone you know.
“The Peeple app allows us to better choose who we hire, do business with, date, become our neighbours, roommates, landlords/tenants, and teach our children,” runs the blurb. “There are endless reasons as to why we would want this reference check for the people around us.”
It is the brainchild of a Canadian marketer, Julia Cordray, and her Californian co-founder, Nicole McCullough, who describe it as a “positivity app for positive people”.
The Washington Post reports that the company’s shares were valued at US$7.6m on Monday, and that Cordray and McCullough are pitching for more investment. (Many of the shareholders profiled on Peeple’s website have personal relationships with Cordray.)
To join the service – which is being beta tested – you must be at least 21 and have an established Facebook account. All reviews you write appear under your real name, and are contextualised in one of three categories: personal, professional or romantic. You can improve your public “positivity rating” by writing more positive reviews than negative ones.
To add someone new to the site’s database, you must have their mobile phone number. Positive reviews post immediately; reviews of two stars or fewer are sent to the subject’s private inbox, from which point you have 48 hours to “work it out with the user”: “If you cannot turn a negative into a positive the comment will go live and then you can publicly defend yourself.”
Reviews will also expire after a year, to reflect people’s capacity to “grow and change for the better”.
Although users can report any write-ups they believe are inaccurate or violate Peeple’s terms and conditions, they cannot delete reviews. If you do not join Peeple, and thus can’t contest those negative ratings, your profile shows only positive ones.
It sounds like a moderating – not to mention legal – minefield, and early media stories have been sceptical. (The development of a similar service, MeowMeowBeenz, and the social breakdown that ensues is the plot of one episode of the sitcom Community.)
“I’m really looking forward to being able to air all of my personal grievances, all from the safety of my phone,” wrote columnist Mike Morrison in an opinion piece that was later rebutted point-by-point on Peeple’s Facebook page.
In an update titled “An Ode to Courage” posted prominently on Peeple’s home page, Cordray and McCullough say they refuse to apologise for being “bold innovators … because we love you enough to give you this gift … whether you love us or our concept or not”.
On Thursday Cordray told the Guardian that Peeple had been “misrepresented by media”. When signing up, users must agree to an extensive list of terms and conditions intended to prevent shaming or bullying.
These include “profanity, bullying, health references, disability references, confidential information, mentioning other people in a rating that you are not currently writing a rating for, name calling, degrading comments, abuse, derogatory comments, sexual references, mention of confidential information, racism, legal references, hateful content, [and] sexism”.
Users are also not allowed to review people they do not know.
“We will be reviewing all negative reviews posted before they can go live and will have control over them,” said Cordray. “We will also be reviewing positive reviews to unclaimed profiles to ensure compliance [to the terms and conditions].”
But the response to Peeple posted on its Facebook page suggests that, for many, this is not reassurance enough. “How do I opt out pre-emptively?” asked one commenter; a representative responded saying that “we have not made these decisions concrete yet nor have we launched our app”.
An edited Facebook post published late on Wednesday night further suggested that the terms and conditions of the app, and the way it functioned, were not yet set in stone.
Currently, users are not allowed to remove themselves from Peeple’s database, but Cordray said this was under consideration: “No promises though as we want to hear from our Beta users and do what they would want since they would likely be our users.”
She said Peeple would be launched in November “unless we change major features” – meaning you have at least one month to get into everyone’s good books.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010