Unvarnished Becomes Honestly.com, Raises $1.2 Million And Opens The Floodgates

Unvarnished is all grown up.

The self-described reputation management site, which allows professionals to anonymously submit reviews on their peers, has just renamed its site to “Honestly.com” and raised $1.2 million from several high-profile firms including First Round Capital, Ron Conway’s SV Angel, Charles River Ventures. The round also includes individual investors, like Joshua Schachter, Travis Kalanick and Richard Chen. The corporate entity is still officially named Unvarnished, but in terms of identity and brand the company will effectively go by Honestly.

Beyond today’s makeover and funding announcement, co-founder Peter Kazanjy is officially opening the site to any professional. Previously, access to Unvarnished has been limited to invite-only or professionals from a list of roughly 200 pre-approved tech/tech-related companies. Now anyone, with a Facebook account, can set up a profile on Unvarnished or claim a preexisting profile and submit reviews.

In a press release this Tuesday, the company says, “Based on the professional, honest, and nuanced review content that has been contributed by the community over the past six months, we’re confident that now is the right time to take this next step.” As evidence of the community’s health, Honestly points to recent statistics: Over the last six months, the review distribution— which is numerically based on a 5-star rating system, with 5 being the top score— shows that 61% of ratings feature a 5 star rating and only 2% of ratings showcase the dreaded 1 star review.

That does indicate a largely positive environment, but as I’ve written before, there is still room for the devil.

For those unfamiliar with the mechanics of the site, Honestly works by allowing any user to create a profile for him/herself or a peer. Reviews are submitted anonymously, your name is never attached to a quantitative or qualitative review, however, people can rank how helpful your review is, which influences your overall trustworthy rank. It is an incentive to be fair and provide insightful reviews but it doesn’t really prevent anyone from using the site to settle personal vendettas or fabricate lies. Unless a comment violates the terms of service (i.e. illegal), users cannot remove it from their profile (nor can they take down their profile), however, they can respond with comments.

When Kazanjy and I spoke in September, he noted that there has been less than 10 user complaints, that (combined with the previous stat) does imply a high level of civility.

However, I still wonder whether Honestly is ready to be unleashed on the world wide web.  Since March, the site’s users, which have numbered in the tens of thousands, have been frolicking in a fairly small, properly walled-off garden. Now that everyone (and their vengeful ex-boyfriend/girlfriend) has a key to the garden, it will be interesting to see how the environment changes and whether the rate of consumer complaints rise. I don’t expect a deluge of false reviews mucking up the entire Honestly community and abuses might not be obvious for quite a while. However, until Honestly allows users to opt out and remove their profiles, I will remain skeptical.

As the cliche goes, it only takes a few bad apples.