Think about how your professional reputation functions in the real world. On one hand there's your resume or CV—you on paper. But competition for the best jobs often comes down to frank, back-channel discussions between colleagues about performance, work ethic, and skill.
When Unvarnished was founded back in March, its notion was to bring that conversation to the Web, as frightening but ultimately truthful and productive as it is. It began in invite-only private beta, but some initial TV and print coverage led to a rapid growth in its user base to tens of thousands.
Now with new cash—$1.2 million in VC funding from First Round Capital, Charles River Ventures, and Ron Conway's SV Angel, among others—Unvarnished has rebranded itself as the much stickier Honestly.com. It's also opening the site to anyone with a Facebook account who's over 21.
A skeptical TechCruch back in March called Unvarnished a "nicely indexed, digital burn book." Its founder, Peter Kazanjy, tells Fast Company that he doesn't see things that way, naturally. The way he sees it, sites like LinkedIn, which give users 100% control over their professional reputation, are ultimately detrimental to professionalism. "What we're interested in is accuracy," he says.
So Unvarnished went radically in the other direction from LinkedIn. Someone other than you can create an entry on you; anyone on the site can review you, and you can't take anything down. People can feel free to write something negative about you, without fear of repercussion, since their identities are protected.
How does this not become a flaming war? Unlike blogs, where a user can treat identities as disposable, Honestly only allows users one identity, verified through Facebook Connect (the digital equivalent of a Social Security number, for all intents and purposes, notes Kazanjy). Brand-new Facebook accounts are viewed skeptically by the site. Someone who only reviews negatively will also come to Honestly's attention. Someone who reviews wantonly but is never reviewed herself will also draw suspicion. Users can vote others' comments up or town. Reviewers begin as "novices," and eventually gain "trusted" status on the site.
Kazanjy thinks he has steered the right course between anonymity (a word he avoids, anyway, for its association with bad online behavior) and accountability. Where LinkedIn is PR, Honestly has the potential to be something more like journalism. If anything, it would seem that his site's users have been pulling punches: Only 10% of the ratings on the site are in the lower categories of 3 out of 5 stars or lower.