We like rating and quantifying things. Quick, give me your top five restaurants, your top five after work bars, and your top five dog parks! I bet you’ve got a partial list already. Now give me your top five bosses, exes, and neighbours! Does that feel a little strange? Rating the complex relationships you’ve developed with friends, neighbours, and colleagues?
The new in-development app Peeple invites you to do just that: rate everyone in your life as a series of quantifiables. How’s his hair? Like, maybe a 3 out of 5. Presentation skills? Solid 4, would hire again. Peeple founders Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough pitch the app as Yelp for people and tout Yelp’s 79% positive reviews as proof that people are “fundamentally good.” (No mention of the fact that many Yelp reviewers are paid.) Peeple, they say, won’t be abused because the internet proves that people, when writing under their real names, are motivated to share positive things. Unfortunately, Facebook, Twitter, and workplace rating systems of the past have proven that people are glad to share loads of negative feelings too. Peeple will come with a host of features meant to precent abuse, but they seem unlikely to be effective. It takes an awful lot of effort to cultivate a positive community — it doesn’t happen all by itself.
The news generated hundreds of think pieces overnight, so I’ve pulled out five pieces that add — hopefully — new information or new ideas to the conversation:
James Vincent breaks down the structural problems with the human ratings platform at the Verge: you can rate others without their consent and there are no provisions for dealing with subtly discriminatory reviews. Add to that the lack of discussion of how the founders will deal with harassment and defamation on their service.
The New Statesman argues that the core problem with Peeple is rating people assumes that character is fixed: that past behaviour is a good predictor for future behaviour; that people don’t change; and that public shaming is good and should continue indefinitely. People are not a service or a commodity. People are complex beings who have done good and bad in their lives.
So vague are descriptions of how Peeple will actually function that Snopes fact-checked the app, thinking it might be a hoax. Suspicious factors include the founders’ lack of background in app development, the absence of any mention of Peeple prior to the Washington Post interview, and the lack of any product specifications or technical updates. Their conclusion: Peeple may be real but it’s unlikely to make it to the app store in November.
At Motherboard, Jordan Pearson points out that everything we know about Peeple suggests that it’s designed for recruiting. Not only do the founders have a background in recruiting, but the app itself works like a personal resume — its structure encourages you to participate on Peeple, police your reviews relentlessly, and secure good reviews from friends and colleagues. This is LinkedIn on steroids, but with a view into your private life.
Jospeh Reagle, assistant professor of Digital Communications at Northeastern says that Peeple will face yet another hurdle: “People are both ratingphilic and ratingphobic. The app takes advantage of the fact that people love to rate and peruse the ratings of others. But people are uneasy when the tables turn and the ratings are about them.” Peeple is another in a long line of startups that have tried to monetize the rating of people — and few have succeeded in their mission. If the ratings culture is too negative, people will flee. If it’s too positive, people will get bored and leave. What’s an app like Peeple to do?