Honestly.com Wants You to Rate Your Co-Workers

Controversial person ratings site Unvarnished changes name, opens to everyone.

Oct. 19, 2010— -- You can already rate movies, restaurants and products online. Now, Honestly.com wants you to rate your co-workers too.

Originally launched in March as Unvarnished.com (as in the "unvarnished truth"), the site today announced that it was not only changing its name, but opening itself up to a broader online community.

When it first hit the Web, the site was invitation-only. As of today, however, the site is accessible to anyone with a Facebook account over the age of 21.

When it debuted earlier this year, some tech blogs were merciless with their criticism, calling it everything from a "clean, well-lighted place for defamation" to a "public bathroom wall for everyone on the planet" to "a completely evil social network."

Detractors have said that there is little to stop conversation on the website from descending into the hate-fests found on so many sites with anonymous comments.

But the site's founder Peter Kazanjy and others say that in the months since its launch, the site has not only maintained a professional tone, it has become a resource for those looking to hire or build a business.

As a testament to its potential, the company also announced today that it had raised $1.2 million in new funding from investors previously (or currently) affiliated with eBay, Twitter and the financial services site Mint.

Since the site's launch, he said, it has attracted tens of thousands of reviews from about the same number of active users.

"The power of Honestly.com is less about the fact that you can leave somebody a one-star review? but instead in its ability to leave someone a 4-star review," he said. "[That's] the kind of information that is important information about people and the information that is hard to access right now."

Founder: Not About Frat Party Foibles but Integrity, Management, Productivity

Kazanjy said his site is intended to be an online resource for those managing and researching professional reputations. It's not about what you might have done at a college party years ago, he said, but rather about a person's management style, productivity, integrity and relationships.

"Professional reputation resides in the brains of all your colleagues and co-workers, and it's very hard to access that," he told ABCNews.com previously. "This is the place for productive conversation about this topic."

Using mechanisms similar to those that power review-sharing sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Amazon, Kazanjy said his site is trying to provide an honest and candid window into a person's professional identity.

Like the popular professional networking site LinkedIn, users can request reviews of themselves and provide reviews of co-workers or others in their industry. But the key -- and controversial -- difference is that all reviews are anonymous and users can't delete any reviews about themselves.

Founder: Safeguards Keep Comments in Line

For critics, the lack of profile control means nothing but trouble. Any co-worker or subordinate with a bone to pick or score to settle could head to the site and post an unfairly critical review, they say. And without their identity to hold them accountable, what's to stop online trolls from defaming anyone they want?

But Kazanjy emphasized that his site employs several safeguards that have already proven effective in keeping nasty comments to a minimum.

Though comments are anonymous to people using the site, reviewers are not anonymous to the site's operators. The fact that users must sign in through their Facebook accounts gives them an identity across the site, which enables Honestly.com to monitor any unusual or unfair behavior.

He said the site's algorithms can also see if a reviewer and the person being reviewed share any contacts. If they share none, he said, that could be a red flag that the reviewer might not have any legitimate reason to leave the review, which could affect the review's placement.

Kazanjy said his site can tell if users only leave negative reviews or review those they have never worked with. He said the site can also tell if people sign in with fake Facebook accounts.

"We have no problem banning someone if they don't behave in a professional fashion on the site," he said.

Honestly.com: No Problem Banning Someone If They Don't Behave Professionally

Similar to Yelp and other sites, Kazanjy also said that users can rate the reviews. If users think a given comment is overly critical or abusive, they can report it, which could result in a comment being removed or a user being labeled "not trusted." Over time, their reviews could fall in ranking or be entirely invisible across the site, he said.

Kazanjy said the previous model, in which users invited others to review them, may have contributed to a more positive tone on the site. But he said he doesn't expect that to change as the site opens up.

"At the end of the day, we think that people are good," he said. "We have seen [that] if you give them a platform where they can share their professional opinion, but they know there are incentives for good behavior and disincentives for bad behavior, then they don't engage in bad behavior and they engage in good behavior. And I think we anticipate seeing that pattern continue."