Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Grade your

It was only a matter of time.

We know people like judging other people. Heck, we even like watching other people judge people. We also know people like interacting with websites rather than simply reading them. The natural result? Websites where you can judge other people.

Collective judgments are nothing new when it comes to restaurants, books, or even employers. But we're entering a new era where your online reputation may in large part be determined by other people. Assuming this trend takes off.

On one end of this spectrum, we have websites like Checkster, which is more of a reference checking or 360-degree feedback tool. It's what I would consider a "closed" system in its current iteration, because unless you're part of the process (applicant, employer, or reference-giver) you don't interact with it. The information remains relatively private and it's for a specific situation.

In the middle are sites liked LinkedIn, which allow you to "recommend" people. LinkedIn is a bit more open in that you can view someone's profile, but to see someone's recommendations, you need to be connected to them in some way, which is generally tricky for an employer unless they're already very connected. The other problem is the title--recommendations. This precludes other types of, shall we say, more constructive feedback.

On the far end of the spectrum is Unvarnished, which has recently gotten a lot of press. It's the most open system in that people's profiles are readily available (presumably; it's still in beta). Any unvarnished user can add a profile of a person to the site or comment on an already existing one. And it's all anonymous, although reviews can be rated and moderated. Finally, you can "claim" your profile and receive notification of new reviews, comment on ratings, and request reviews from specific people.

One of the big questions about this model is how accurate the information is. Are people just using this as an opportunity to get back at someone? Do they really know the person? To some these concerns are so overwhelming that they can't imagine using such a site. So it might be helpful for us to look at some recent research on a similar site, RateMyProfessors, which shares the open feel of Unvarnished.

You're probably familiar with RateMyProfessors. It's a simple way for students to provide feedback about their teachers. Teachers are rated on things like helpfulness and clarity and can provide comments as well. Those being rated can even provide responses.

Sounds like a way for failing students to rant about their professors, right? Well you might be surprised. In a new study published online, the authors looked at several hundred students and professors at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Here are some of their results:

1) Ratings were more frequently positive than negative.

2) "Popularity" (or lack thereof) of teacher was not correlated with frequency of feedback.

3) Students are not using the site to "rant" or "rave" as their primary motivation.

4) Those who posted were no different than those who hadn't in terms of GPA, year in school, or learning goal orientation. They were more likely to be male and their program was correlated with likelihood of feedback (e.g., those in the social sciences were more likely than those in the arts and humanities).

These results, if generalizable to other similar sites like Unvarnished, suggest that the results may be more accurate than we fear, and thus more useful. We know that peer reviews have at least moderate validity in terms of predicting performance. But there a still a lot of questions to be answered in terms of how the feedback is structured and how the information will be used by a potential employer.

So...might there be hope for crowdsourcing one's reputation? Or are we headed down a dangerous road? Would this make employers' lives easier--or just more confusing? Are defamation suits a possibility?

As an applicant yourself, here's something else to think about: would you rather your online reputation be determined by what an employer finds out about you while randomly surfing, or would you rather have a site where you can--at least partially--manage it?

Finally, consider this: If such a website became popular and filled with information about applicants...would you look someone up before hiring them?

1 comment:

mark said...

Appearance-based discrimination