What Do People Really Think of You? Web Site Helps You Find Out

Failin.gs helps you solicit anonymous feedback online.

Feb. 1, 2010— -- Ever want to know what people think of you, but are too afraid or embarrassed to ask?

A new Web site is promising to offer you a way to help you find out.

Now in beta, Failin.gs is an online tool that lets users solicit anonymous feedback from people that they know. Once it's live in a couple of weeks, anyone will be able to create a profile, invite others to comment and then sit back as the (hopefully) constructive criticism pours in.

"As you know, nobody is perfect," the Web site says. "We all have our own idiosyncrasies and personality flaws. Just think of all the people you know. We are sure you can identify what they could improve upon. We bet your friends know a thing or two about you that you don't know yourself!"

The founders, a pair of forthright friends with backgrounds in computer programming, say their site is intended to be a social experiment in brutal honesty.

"We've never been afraid to tell each other the truth," said Chicago-based Stephen Celis, 25. "This really started from that, it's all in good humor."

Failin.gs Is Experiment in Brutal Honesty

His partner, 31-year-old Danny Peck, from Asheville, N.C., said that while most popular sites online tend to stroke users' egos, they wanted to "flip the model on its head."

"It's an ego buster, so to speak," he said.

Once users sign up, they can send the link far and wide, asking friends and family to submit their critiques.

If you've always wanted to tell your former college roommate that she's not a good listener or let a co-worker know that it would be nice if he offered to buy a round of drinks once in a while, the site will also let you anonymously invite them to the site so that you can point out their flaws.

To discourage Internet trolls from turning the site into a hate-fest, the founders say they will require commenter's to answer a question that only people who actually know the person being reviewed will be able to answer.

All profiles will include only the users' first names, so Peck said that at the moment the site simply asks people wanting to make a comment to type in the last name of the person they are critiquing. But he emphasized that the question could change before the site's launch.

Users Can Choose to Keep Account Private

To further uphold the spirit of the site, he also said that Failin.gs will include a feature that allows users to report abuse, similar to those on Facebook and other social networking sites.

Though the profiles are public by default, each user can change their settings and elect to keep the comments they receive visible only to themselves.

"We didn't want to create a site that would scare people away. It has an air of whimsy about it," said Peck. "It's fun and light-hearted, that's the image we hoped to project."

Though they said Failin.gs will start out as a place for individuals to solicit and submit critiques, it could grow to something more.

"People could potentially use this inside a corporate environment for employee feedback," said Peck.

The site itself will have its own account so that users can comment on their positive and negative experiences, and he added that, in the future, they could see corporate brands, like Starbucks, or celebrities maintaining accounts for the same purpose.

Failin.gs Similar to Professional 360 Degree Feedback Programs

Like 360 degree feedback programs, which companies have used for years and allow employees to receive anonymous feedback from peers, supervisors and subordinates, Celis and Peck hope Failin.gs will also help give people the information they need to improve socially or professionally.

Frederick Morgeson, a psychologist and professor at Michigan State University's Eli Broad College of Business, said though Failin.gs is similar to 360 degree feedback processes, its anonymous nature could present challenges.

In an office setting, a person undergoing a 360 degree review for developmental purposes selects a small group of people to critique him. When the comments come in, he isn't able to match each comment to each reviewer, but he knows that all comments came from trusted sources, Morgeson said.

With Failin.gs, however, it may be more difficult to determine how valuable the comments are, he continued.

For example, you could potentially receive comments from someone who hasn't seen you in three years as well as from someone who sees you three times a week, but you have no way of knowing which comments came from whom.

Can You Trust Sources of Data?

"If you can't trust the source of that data, it's unclear how much benefit you will derive," he said.

He also said that under the guise of anonymity, people sometimes say things that are more extreme than they would say face to face.

Soliciting the kinds of comments that are most valuable could be another challenge, he said.

"The advice we typically give from a feedback standpoint is to be objective, focus solely on behavior and consequences of that behavior," he said.

Morgeson said he hopes the site provides some guidance so that reviewers refrain from being evaluative and judgmental.

But others familiar with the world of online comments say Failin.gs shows that the Internet is growing up.

Michael Fertik, CEO of ReputationDefender.com, a site that helps people monitor their online reputation, said that it wasn't so long ago that Web sites, such as Juicy Campus, tried to keep comments about other people as public and as lascivious as possible.

"It's a signal of the maturing of the Internet that they are trying to encourage liquidity and participation in the market by allowing privacy in the results," he said.

While the technology isn't especially new, he said that increasingly he expects online mechanisms to emerge that help people understand how they compare to others.

"The trend is very good. The practice of allowing you to hide the feedback is very good," he said. He said the success or failure lies in the implementation.

Still, he urged potential users of this site (and any site with the potential to store and publish personal information) to be cautious.

"Are you exposing yourself to a possible worry? And if you're not, then go for it," he said. But added, "there a lot of good here and there could be a nifty factor too."