It's being called "Yelp for people," which is really all you need to know about "Peeple." But unlike Yelp, Peeple probably won't have much of a future, unless, that is, they somehow figure out how to monetize reactionary thinkpieces.
The ostensible raison d'être for Peeple, as Julia Cordray, one of its founders explained to The Washington Post, is to provide users with information about the people we interact with in social, professional, and romantic situations, a truly unique concept, as there is currently no other source of information about people like that anywhere else online.
"People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions," she said. "Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?"
Uh, indeed. The app, touting its own revolutionary contributions to the field of human interaction, bills itself as a "concept that has never been done before in a digital space that will allow you to really see how you show up in this world as seen through the eyes of your network." In a series of videos on the site in which Corday and co-founder Nicole McCullough pitch the idea to passersby, they stumble upon this succinct pitch from a guy at a bar: What if Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tinder had a baby? Good question. Here's another one: what if that baby was left in a basket on the front stoop of a local hospital because no one wanted it?
Still, because we're now required to at least contend with the idea of this thing, let us briefly summarize how it is supposed to work. Those who sign up must be 21 years old, and they must have an established Facebook account. Once they've cleared those admittedly high barriers, the user can then add people they know, but with the stipulation that they can't add someone whose phone number they don't have.
Thoughts on #Peeple: 1- Just because someone else has my phone number, doesn't mean I'm consenting for them to sign me up for something.
— Allegra Clark (@SimplyAllegra) October 1, 2015
Users will then be able to rate others on a five star system, and leave comments, either negative or positive, on their profile. Although calling it a profile is a bit misleading, since many of the people in question will not have opted-in to the service, themselves, and will, as of now, not be able to delete their presence on the site. Positive reviews will show up instantly, but negative ones will be held for 48 hours, during which time the person being criticized will have a chance to dispute the validity of the claims, or work out their differences with their accusers. According to the FAQ: "If you cannot turn a negative into a positive the comment will go live and then you can publicly defend yourself." Seems like a good use of your time.
— Sara Schaefer (@saraschaefer1) October 1, 2015
Needless to say, there are enough potential flaws in this system that someone could invent an entire app to catalog them all. As the Post points out, there is no way this is ever going to offer an accurate picture of a person's character, particularly because, as services like Rate My Professor and Yelp itself have shown — hell, any single website in existence — the type of people motivated to leave comments are either those with an overly favorable impression, or, more commonly, an unhinged, frothing, infuriated one. No one is ever going to go online to say "Yeah, that dude? He's…ok. Nothing remarkable to say about this completely average person." Similar concerns arose a few years back with Lulu, which we all also got ourselves all worked up over before it inevitably failed.
"As two empathetic, female entrepreneurs in the tech space, we want to spread love and positivity," Cordray explained. "We want to operate with thoughtfulness."
Naturally, very, very many women, and those sympathetic to the way women, in particular, are treated online (i.e. all reasonable people everywhere), have been adamant in their anger about the app's potential for abuse.
"This is not Yelp for people. This is a harassment tool for abusers," one commenter on Peeple's Facebook page wrote. "You can talk about all the planned safeguards you want, but abusers live to game systems and you're handing them the biggest present they could ever hope for, guaranteed."
For their part, the founders have said they're listening to the concerns, but still seem to be in a defensive stance, posting numerous examples of the "positive" feedback they've been getting from unnamed supporters in the passive-egressive way that businesses being ripped a new one often do.
"We hear you loud and clear. 1. You want the option to opt in or opt out. 2. You don't want the ability for users to start your profiles even if you would only get positive reviews if they did (Our app does not allow negative reviews for unclaimed profiles)," one of their recent posts reads, before going on to explain that people "are genuinely good" so what, in other words, what do any of us have to worry about? It's a stance that sounds like it could be taken right from the script of an overbearing authoritarian surveillance factotum: "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about!"
Cordray seems to be keeping things in perspective. As she told Newsweek, groundbreaking discoveries like hers often frighten people. "We have more integrity features and more accountability features built in than many online ratings systems today. I can appreciate, when people found out the world was actually round and not flat, and that we revolved around the sun instead of the sun revolving around us, there was tons of fear and uproar. We need to keep in mind that with any new concept and any new idea, there's always going to be some fear and some concern."
The Twitter account for @Peeple has since gone private.
— BrilliantSocialMedia (@brilliantsocial) October 1, 2015
The founders of #peeple are upset bc someone created a Twitter account of them without their permission. Irony just imploded
— JLArmentrout (@JLArmentrout) October 1, 2015
Despite the app being reportedly valued at $7.6 million due to recent funding, it's pretty safe to say all of this is much ado about nothing. Apps come and go, some make a big splash in their initial publicity round, and most are never heard from again. There's no chance in hell this thing ever catches on, but, if it does, feel free to leave a negative review on my profile under the Common Sense, and Reasonable Business Acumen sections.
This article was originally published on Esquire.com