Yet Another Great Idea: “Peeple”, the App

There has been enormous buzz for the as-yet-not-even-available app, Peeple.

Let me put in my two Satoshis worth.

As far as I can tell, the app does basically nothing except maintain a database of ratings, not unlike every other app. Most ‘ratings’ in apps are relevant to some context, but all of them are basically popularity contests for businesses, media content, and above all, people.

The controversial thing about Peeple is that it ditches all the window dressing and goes right to the heart of the matter: it is a rating for people, plain and simple.

Bravo! (Actually, I should say ‘Brava!”, as the creators are female.)

Why mess around pretending that we are rating what people post, and admit that we are just rating people. And why not get a pure measure of our “popularity”, undiluted by factors that might affect indicators like number of followers.

I salute the clarity of vision and bold thinking that came up with this concept. It is the social web brought to its logical conclusion, the pure white powder, uncut. Wow!

Of course, there are many things to criticize.

From the company information, we learn that this product was whipped up by two best friends in just 90 days. In Silicon Valley, where else. The absence of adult supervision is readily apparent. I’m pretty sure that the 90 days did not include any actual “play testing” either, to see how this concept might actually work.

The concept is breathtakingly pure. It would be brilliant satire if they didn’t really believe in it.

The app itself is simple: it “allows you to rate and comment about the people you interact with in your daily lives on the following three categories: personal, professional, and dating.”

They intend the app to provide “[a]uthentic and relevant information about you and others you interact with”. This is “paramount to our vision for this app” I their awkward phrasing. Only in Silicon Valley is your digital network considered a font of authenticity and relevance.

Furthermore, these ratings could be valuable to you, when you share them. “Peeple will enhance your online reputation for access to better quality networks, top job opportunities, and promote more informed decision making about people.” Not only you, but others will take these ratings seriously and base important decisions on them.

Phew! This was definitely cooked up in Silicon Valley!

As to the implementation, it seems not only unexceptional, but literally derivative. Peeple uses your Facebook profile and network. (Biology calls this “parasitism”. In that sense, this app is biomimetic design.) Nowadays, when someone refers to “your network”, they generally mean your Facebook network.

This parasitism is, of course, the secret to the swift development cycle. This app is mashed together from standard pieces, and reuses data from existing platforms. As a software engineer, I recognize this as solid methodology, at least for building a demo. It is not particularly “innovative” technologically.

I have to wonder about the business model, if any. How is this supposed to make money? Will there be fees? Advertising? I don’t really get it. The web materials call tell us they “love you enough to give you this gift”, so conventional profit or financial sustainability may not be important.  (That may be what “abundance” means in this context.)

Worse, if this app succeeds, Facebook and others could easily replicate the service in about a day. Boom.

This app has already been (rightly) criticized as an invitation to really bad social interactions. I’m sure that Nicole and Julia sincerely believe that this is a “positivity app”, that will help people find “more abundance, joy, and real authentic connections”, and “make better decisions”.

Whether you love us or our concept or not; we still welcome everyone to explore this online village of love and abundance for all.

Many critics do not believe that “this online village” is in the middle of a huge, dark online jungle, abundant with trolls and predators.  The internet isn’t really a positive place, in my own experience.

And I will add that this concept is extremely complicated psychologically. N&J believe that “authentic” ratings will be good for relationships, and will help you be better. I would expect them to have different result for different people. I’m particularly concerned about younger users, who are already struggling with sorting out who they are, in the hot house of teen age society. Bad ratings and feedback could easily be crushing and lead to serious problems. Heck, good ratings could lead to bad problems, too. (Didn’t your mother tell you not to let others lead you astray?)

As to the notion that you or anyone should use such ratings for decision making: yikes! How in the world would I assess the merits of such ratings? Who are the raters, what are their motives, and what do the base their ratings on? I need to know this before I interpret your five star ratings.

Importantly, the answers to those questions, and therefore the significance of the ratings, vary from case to case. Some of them might be very accurate and revealing. Others might be fluff, and others might be malicious character assassination. There is no way to tell. And that makes them pretty useless for decision-making, no?

However, Peeple is certainly a gift for social psychologists and anthropologists! The potential studies are abundant! How do people really use the ratings? How do different groups incorporate them into their existing social structures and behavior? How to power and status play out in givng, receiving, and interpreting the ratings? How would Peeple rankings relate to other ratings (Facebook likes, Twitter followers, Uber ratings, E-bay trust, etc.)?  Will there be a Chinese version, and an Israeli version, and so on?  Will there be ethnic and racial “cliques”? (Yes.)

Personally, I don’t think this app is particularly harmful. It is, after all, highly derivative, sitting atop all the other bad ideas out there in the social web.   I’m pretty sure it won’t do anything significant for people, and probably will disappear quickly and/or be copied and replaced by others.

But it is a true contribution to our early twenty first century culture, capturing so essentially this madness for digital rating systems.

Again, Brava!

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