Online reputation online is a fascinating area, partially because eBay, through their feedback score, is the only company to have reached scale. Startups like Rapleaf and iKarma are still young and struggling.
Perhaps their flaw has been in taking the high road, and going out of their way to ensure that reputational feedback is being left by verified identities.
New startup Gorb, which I first read about on David Berlind’s blog, takes no such high road. Gorb allows, even insists on, anonymous comments and ratings about an individual. Like someone? Hate them? Tell Gorb all about it, using their handy Ajax slider to rate them from 1 – 10 in their professional and personal lives, and leave written comments as well.
Arguing that a “non-anonymous system also contains “noise,” as reciprocity creates a fake positive response,” Gorb founder Leonard Boord (trash or glorify him here) thinks that anonymous feedback is the only way to go.
They do have some checks on the wholesale slaughter of people’s reputations. Each written comment can be voted, Digg style, up or down by other users. If lots of people agree with you, your reputation is enhanced. If they disagree, your reputation suffers. The person being discussed may also respond to each comment.
I agree with Boord that services like LinkedIn are often a farce – people leave good feedback on others in the hope that the gesture will be returned. And since the user must approve feedback before it is published to the site, only gushing testaments to perfection ever see the light of day.
Rapleaf does a much better job than LinkedIn at getting balanced feedback from users. But there is still a cost to posting something negative – Rapleaf isn’t an anonymous service, and comments are at least tied to a user name.
With Gorb, there’s absolutely nothing to lose by telling someone how bad they smell, or how much you dislike the tone of their voice. Libel away.
I think Gorb goes too far, and will appeal mostly to people who have highly negative things to say about others. Without fear of being held accountable for their words, people may go a little overboard in their quest to “help” people know the truth about themselves.
But Gorb also has the smell of success about it. People will be drawn to this in the same way they slow down when they pass a highway accident. They are tapping into basic human psychology, and may make a buck or two on the back of what is sure to be the misery of others.