Inside Unvarnished: A Close Look at the Controversial Site

Part II

In the last episode of TY4NS, I dove into the controversy swirling around Unvarnished, the reputations Web site people love to hate. Why do they hate it? Because the Yelp-like site appears to allow disgruntled employees, meddling managers, and other assorted pissants the opportunity to slander you anonymously. Worse, once a negative review has passed Unvarnished's phalanx of automated and human censors, you can't have it removed.

Today I'm going to talk a bit about what it's like to actually use the thing (something I suspect 99 percent of its critics have yet to do). My overall conclusion: The site definitely has its share of faults, and it can be gamed to some extent, but it's a lot harder to savage someone's reputation on Unvarnished than it appears.

As I noted last time, you must log in via Facebook Connect, making it difficult for one person to pretend to be multiple people on Unvanished. As it turns out, I have three Facebook accounts -- yes, I am schizophrenic -- so I was able to create three Unvarnished accounts to use in my experiment.

I tested Unvarnished the way I tend to test every service -- by pushing it to extremes to see where it breaks down. So I created my logins and started posting reviews. The first one I posted was of Unvarnished CEO Peter Kazanjy, since he's the one who invited me onto the site. I gave him 4 stars, rated him 8 out of 10 across the board for Skill, Productivity, Relationships, and Integrity, respectively, and left the following comment:

"I think Peter needs to drink less caffeine and eat more vegetables. Otherwise, he's the perfect manager/employee/founder/scourge of the Internet."

I posted a couple of straight reviews of people I knew on the site, and then a few of my fictional friends that were a little funkier. Like this one:

The next day, I got an Unvarnished Community Guidelines Violation Notification email saying this review had been pulled from the site. The reason they gave? Not because I essentially called this person a drunk who sleeps on the job, but because I suggested he kept weapons concealed in his desk. To wit:

"... your content "he keeps throwing knives in his top desk drawer" on profile [xxxxxxx] was found to be problematic, and removed from the site. Namely, the content was [inappropriate language]."

Two other funky reviews got yanked. Apparently, you can't suggest someone is an alien or married to a donkey. (Who knew?) But in neither case did I receive any notification. (That was a mistake, says Peter K.) One of my largely positive "straight" reviews also got 86'd. Why? In that instance it was because I said "for all I know, she might be a screaming hellbitch before noon." Apparently, Unvarnished didn't like my use of the word "bitch." And that's not the only word it doesn't like:

So if you're reviewing someone whose job involves working with, say, door knobs, you'll have to find some creative ways to phrase your praise.

One of the things I found weird was that, despite these reviews getting pulled, they still appeared on the My Unvarnished page on my account. I could still see them, but nobody else on Unvarnished could. So I would have no way of knowing (aside from the not-so-reliable emails) that there was anything wrong with them.

I spoke with Peter K. after my experiment. He told me that if I were a normal user (and not a reporter who'd just interviewed him and requested access to his site) I would have earned myself a lifetime ban from Unvarnished, based on the handful of screwy reviews I posted. They also caught one of my two fictional identities. They did not catch any of the reviews I posted of people who don't exist, however.

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