The new social networking service Unvarnished has people talking and, in some cases, panicking. What is this "sleazy little sister to LinkedIn," and how could it destroy your career—or that of your sworn corporate enemy? (Watch a video report about Unvarnished).)
How does Unvarnished work?
Other people can create an account about you, without your knowledge or consent; reviews are completely anonymous; and there's no way for you to remove them or shut down your own account. Individual reviewers can gain more rating authority by being voted up by other users. You sign in using your Facebook account, but no account information shows up in the review.
What's the point?
The site's creators say they're bringing accountability and transparency to the office by giving workers a forum to post anonymous reviews of each other. "We're trying to [adapt] how professional reputation works in the offline world ...," says Unvarnished co-founder Peter Kazanjy.
Wait, reviews can never be erased?
Not by the person being reviewed. Unvarnished's moderators can remove reviews that are deemed abusive, illegal, or dangerous, and the site blocks comments from people suspected of logging on with a dummy Facebook account (one that is newly created and void of friends).
So some angry or spiteful co-worker could destroy my reputation?
That's certainly the fear. "Because humans magnify the negative, an employee with 50 extremely positive reviews and five very negative reviews would be at a disadvantage against someone with no Unvarnished profile," says Evelyn Rusli in TechCrunch, concluding that Unvarnished will "become a nicely indexed, digital 'burn book.'" There are some safeguards, notes Time's Dan Fletcher, but the site clearly makes "passive-aggressive digital warfare easier."
Safeguards? Like what?
Unvarnished has the identity, via Facebook, of all commenters, so it can take action if posts are defamatory. Also, if you create an Unvarnished account and take ownership of your profile, you can post your side of any negative comments. You can also ask friendly colleagues to write a positive review for you.
Are there potential repercussions outside of your work life?
Quite possibly: It's not just prospective bosses and HR managers who can look at the site. "We fear for relationship safety," says Melissa Noble in Your Tango. "You can find out if your date next Friday has a reputation for stealing office supplies or ruthlessly backstabbing team members." In such a "labyrinth of he said/she said whispers," the truth hardly matters.
So, will it catch on?
Your guess is as good as these: "Hopefully, after a flurry of initial interest once it launches, Unvarnished will die a quick death," says Anne Field at True/Slant. The odd thing about Unvarnished is that "the early buzz about the site is not so much about the product, but how long it will take to get sued," says Amanda Fox at Helium. "Unvarnished is a service that depends (and ultimately profits) on ... our growing anxiety when it comes to our online identity," says TechCrunch's Rusli.