Throw up Thursday: Peeple, an app you'll want to avoid like a dose of clap

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy October 1, 2015
Peeple may have good intentions but I can't get past the marketing bullshit before worrying about the likelihood of destructive trolling.

This week's Friday Roast has been bagged by Jon Reed so I'm inventing and claiming Throw up Thursday --- the ones that make you sick to the stomach. I am aiming my guns squarely at so-called 'Yelp for people' site Peeple, due to launch in November and already attracting the kind of unwelcome attention that almost guarantees its status as a troll magnet. It also gives me an opportunity to take a swipe at rating sites generally. But for now, let's concentrate on Peeple, which claims:

We know you are amazing, special, and unique individuals and most likely would never shout that from the rooftops. The people who know you will though

Yeah right. That is so not going to work. The founders don't seem to care:

 Innovators are often put down because people are scared and they don’t understand. We are bold innovators and sending big waves into motion and we will not apologize for that because we love you enough to give you this gift.

Right there I see the marketing larded bullshit going into overdrive and that's the charitable version. The Verge worries:

Anyone can sign up anyone else if they have their cell number, and although only positive reviews are shown on the profiles of people who haven't signed up, members of the public can't see their reviews unless they join. It's also not clear whether negative reviews are judged to be so based only on the star rating or whether the actual content is also taken into account. If just the former, it means that users could give people extremely negative reviews but a good star rating, with the targets of these write-ups never knowing about them unless they signed up. Call it a growth hack.

WTF? Do they honestly think that will fly? Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post is more concerned:

Unfortunately for the millions of people who could soon find themselves the unwilling subjects — make that objects — of [co-founder] Cordray’s app, her thoughts do not appear to have shed light on certain very critical issues, such as consent and bias and accuracy and the fundamental wrongness of assigning a number value to a person.

Dewey gets to the nub of the problem:

Even putting issues of personality and subjectivity aside, all rating apps, from Yelp to Rate My Professor, have a demonstrated problem with self-selection. (The only people who leave reviews are the ones who love or hate the subject.) In fact, as repeat studies of Rate My Professor have shown, ratings typically reflect the biases of the reviewer more than they do the actual skills of the teacher: On RMP, professors whom students consider attractive are way more likely to be given high ratings, and men and women are evaluated on totally different traits.

She is right. Trawling through rating sites is something of a perilous endeavor. How can the man in the street or, perhaps in Peeple's case, the hard pressed recruiter, expect to tell fact from fiction? Like Dewey, I believe it is inherently inhuman to subject people to this form of reductionism. Remember The Prisoner and his refrain?

I am not a number, I am a free man!

Fortunately, there are more scientific and accurate ways of assessing people than this kind of nonsense.

We see bias elsewhere at places like Glassdoor. I recently asked a CEO what he thought of Glassdoor ratings given that his company was generally rated as a crap place at which to work. He giggled saying that you only get one of two kinds of people rating your business at Glassdoor: those that plant bogus but positive reviews or those that hate you for one or other reason. I'm not sure that's totally accurate but I can certainly understand the sentiment given that what I know of the company doesn't remotely gel with the Glassdoor rating.

Another risk with Peeple is that it will amplify what I see as a general tendency to hypocrisy. What people say about you to your face is rarely a reflection of what they really think. Directness of opinion is often frowned upon but in an app like Peeple you can let it all hang out --- good, bad or anything in between with very little by way of consequence. Dewey talks about the potential for irreparable harm and I certainly see that. In its defense, Peeple promises:

Authentic and relevant information about you and others you interact with is paramount to our vision for this app.

Really? Are these folk living on the same planet as the rest of us? You have to wonder and yet the co-founders seem perfectly prepared to steam ahead with what I predict will be a steaming pile of crap.

My advice? Avoid like a dose of clap. You won't regret it.

Image credit - the original grumpy cat

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