'Unvarnished': People Ratings Web Site Unleashes Controversy

"People accuse him of defaming, but aren't they defaming?" he asked. "They haven't played with the product, they haven't thought through what the true implications of the product are."

He said the biggest source of reputation information online is Google, but no one expects to control Google search results.

Who Could Unvarnished Help?

"Peter has really hit on something. You don't get to control what people say about you," he said. "There are laws about defamation, which everyone needs to observe. But just because it's possible that a newspaper could, in theory, print something defamatory about someone, [it doesn't mean] they should shut down the printing press."

He said it's understood that online communities develop their own cultures, which need to be managed.

"You can't just throw up a comment board and hope for the best," he said. "You need to engage with the community that gathers around the comments and find a way to cultivate the good commenters and discourage the bad," he said.

Unvarnished, he said, is attempting this on a massive scale. Though the success of the site remains to be seen, Thomas said that Kazanjy has attempted to design the site in such a way that a good offline reputation -- and the people who can vouch for it -- will carry through online.

And he said that if successful, Unvarnished could potentially even become a threat to a site like LinkedIn, which has gained significant popularity as a professional networking site.

Because users can control which recommendations to publicize or hide, LinkedIn profiles tend to be "Panglossian" or unreasonably optimistic, Thomas said. But that rosy finish makes the site less helpful to people researching job candidates, he added.

"LinkedIn assumes the best of all possible worlds, Unvarnished is in the real world," he said.

For a recruiter looking to fill middle-level jobs, he said, that could be an enormous help.

"You need a quick assessment and an honest one. That's hard to come by. I think Unvarnished could make recruiters' jobs easier," he said. "If it does that, it will serve its purpose."

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