Once you get out of school, it becomes harder for the bullies among us to persecute people online, which is obviously a real shame.  Sure, for the junior high set there’s been MySpace and the high schoolers have the Facebook, and college and grad students have the benefits of JuicyCampus or other social boards to slander and libel their peers (click on any of those links for a good time!), but what of us grown-ups, out in the real world?

I mean, LinkedIn and Viadeo have been great professional networking tools, but I’ve often found them lacking – where’s the free-for-all forum where I can launch personal attacks and deride my colleagues for their laziness, brown-nosing, or just being giant whores, with the comfort of anonymity?

Well, the internet isn’t about to fail us, hence the advent of the professional and anonymous peer review board, Unvarnished.  Unvarnished allows users to dish about their co-workers’ job performances from the safety of their home computers and is fresh out of beta testing.  The concept is similar to Amazon user reviews and, if it isn’t already obvious to you, can be abused just as handily.  From Time Online:

It’s a concept that has caused some controversy, particularly since Unvarnished allows employees to be reviewed anonymously and with no way of removing a negative review. But the co-founders, veterans of sites like LinkedIn and eBay, think there’s a market for honest, unfiltered feedback about how individuals perform in their jobs and say their site will ultimately be more useful than the carefully selected job references or curated blurbs on someone’s LinkedIn profile. “We’re trying to take how professional reputation works in the offline world and port that online,” says co-founder Peter Kazanjy.

Yeah, you bet your ass there will be a market for it.  A sweaty, grimy, desperate black market.  Because why launch a whisper campaign within your organization when it might be traced back to you, when you can simply put it online and remove the risk of accountability, not to mention ensuring that your grievances will be available, forever, to potential employers and contacts worldwide?  It’s the future, y’all.

Here’s how it works: Say you have a gripe with your co-worker. You can log in to Unvarnished using your Facebook profile and either create a profile for your co-worker or add a comment to a page already created, assigning them a rating and giving a description of your issue. Your name is kept anonymous, meaning your co-worker can’t seek you out for retribution, and your comment is left there for the world (and potentially future employees) to see. Want to give someone an attaboy? You can add that comment on their profile too. The site aggregates reviews to spit out your professional reputation on a five-star scale, along with comments from individual reviewers.

Similar to the hotel rating system I just used to book a beach holiday, but with personal attacks couched in the guise of professional credibility and self-aggrandizing disguised as peer review!

It’s not a completely new idea. Sites like Rate My Professors and Rate MDs have proven popular for assessing members of specific professions. But Unvarnished is unique in the scale of its sounding board: you can rate your doctor, IT guy or boss without ever giving away your identity.

Kazanjy says the anonymity is necessary; without it, people couldn’t be “candid or nuanced in their reviews.” But at the same time, it opens the system up to potential abuse. Feel slighted by your boss? Take it out anonymously on his or her Unvarnished page; there’s little chance you’ll be caught, and potentially very real consequences for your boss’s professional reputation.

The obvious question is, how will they protect people from defamation?  What’s to stop me from wreaking havoc on the reputation of a disliked colleague, or taking out my bad day on the witless Loan Officer at the bank?  The obvious answer?  Resort to the bastion of respectability and authenticity that is Facebook:

Kazanjy says Unvarnished has controls in the system to prevent people from simply trashing their co-workers. All users must “authenticate” through their real-world Facebook profile, providing the company with actual names and personal information in case of a defamatory post. The system is closed to anyone under the age of 21, and abusive comments can be reported and removed by administrators. Users also gain authority based on the helpfulness of the reviews they provide. “We’re not being Pollyannish about [anonymity], but we also don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater,” says Kazanjy. “We don’t want people to not give out negative reviews.”

No, you sure don’t want people to refrain from negative reviews, because you know full well that no one would use Unvarnished if it were full of happy, worth-affirming sentiments and constructive support.  Negativity and ugliness as spectacle is the real moneymaker here – we haven’t been basking in the glow of reality television for the last decade and learned nothing, after all.

And while you can’t remove a review, there are some tools to manage your reputation on Unvarnished. If you log in and take ownership of your Unvarnished profile, you have the ability to respond to each post, giving your side of the story. You can also invite trusted contacts to contribute reviews of their own, in essence bringing friends to bear to burnish your reputation.

So you have to be involved.  You’re going to have to check your own profile on the regular, so if someone – a co-worker, pissed off friend, ex-boyfriend, gosh, anyone, really – decides to write something scathing, you can round up your buddies and your mom to contribute their own glowing reviews of your industriousness and competence.  Perhaps, in turn, you can write a nice comment for them, thereby racking up ratings for all and perpetuating the cycle.  If this actually works, well, we’ll all be using it.  You have to give evil genius its due, even when it’s as obvious as taking the water cooler to the web.

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