My 4/18/10 Missoulian column
(My most recent article on Unvarnished: 4/26/10 What’s in Store for Unvarnished?)
Last week, I wrote about the unveiling of the testing phase of a site called Unvarnished. This week, I got an invite and am checking it out. The front page at (Website is gone) reads “Unvarnished. Truth in reputation.” Let’s see how well that’s working so far.
Unvarnished bills itself as a site where you can read (and write) anonymous reviews of people. Kind of like Facebook for the not-feint-at-heart. On Facebook, you can protect your profile from the public, “friend” as you wish (“unfriend,” too) and generally exert control.
On Unvarnished, you don’t have control over your own profile unless you get on the site and “claim” it. You don’t even have control over someone starting a profile for you. And if someone starts a profile on you, the limited amount of control you do have is to “claim” it and respond to the anonymous comments.
Unvarnished is centered, for now, on the high-tech sector in Silicon Valley. If anything right now, it’s an interesting look into the way Silicon Valley thinks, as opposed to the rest of the world. (For better or for worse, Silicon Valley is where most of the personal computer and Internet stuff we use daily originates.)
But I expect Unvarnished to move beyond Silicon Valley. I don’t think it’s going to be as big as other social networks, but it is a game changer in the social networking world simply for the fact that it turns the control of the content of social networks from the individual to a community.
The recent news accounts about Unvarnished range from saying that the site will destroy relationships and businesses and crash and burn itself, all the way to Unvarnished is best thing since sliced bread and will be huge. And lawyers are already weighing in on the liability aspects of the site.
The truth, as always, is somewhere in between the extremes of the first observations. I think Unvarnished users will be nice to each other for the first few weeks or months, as they are right now, and site bugs will get worked out.
But why does a service like Unvarnished matter? Or does it matter at all? It may help us to figure out – online at least – that very old question: are people inherently good or evil? And how differently do people act while online and anonymous?
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