The Noisy Channel


Get Unvarnished!

April 1st, 2010 · 44 Comments · General

Earlier this week, I read about Unvarnished on TechCrunch and was extremely curious about this “Yelp for LinkedIn” making a bold play in the online reputation space. My curiosity should be no surprise to folks who have read my recent posts about distributed trust networks and solicited reviews. Anyway, I decided to go straight to the source and persuaded Unvarnished CEO Peter Kazanjy to invite me to the beta.

My impression so far: they’ve done a great job of collecting profiles, but the reviews themselves are pretty sparse. Moreover, most of the reviews I’ve seen so far are positive–hardly the bloodbath that the blogosphere has been predicting. Membership is relatively non-anonymous (you need to sign in through Facebook Connect), but your actual reviews are posted anonymously.

Since Unvarnished is trying to collect reviews, it’s not surprising that the way to join the beta…is to review someone. If you want to try it out and don’t mind reviewing me (anonymously) as the price of entry, let me know, and I’ll send you an invite (we’ll have to connect on Facebook first).

p.s. No, this is not an April Fool’s Joke. At least not on my part!

44 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mr. Gunn // Apr 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Distributed is the way to go, to avoid Yelp-style review extortion.

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Yelp allows anonymously entered reviews but has a proprietary filter. Unvarnished doesn’t let you access the system anonymously (or at least requires Facebook Connect and aren’t an obvious fake) but claims it won’t filter reviews unless they are egregiously abusive or illegal. Still, I think it’s too early to predict how Unvarnished will evolve if and when it attracts a critical mass of participation.

  • 3 Dennis Jamison // Apr 1, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Great idea. I want to try out Unvarnished but I’m scared to death of logging into this with facebook. As far as I understand the technical aspecto to it, they’re creating profiles with the act of joining. And your friends could ultimately see what you’re doing on facebook. Freaks me out a bit.

    Something like that doesn’t depend on facebook seems like a better spin on the concept to me.

    Still, I think this is valuable going forward. I want to know what employees are going to be valuable or not and which bosses are going to be abusive. (yes, I’ve had some abusive bosses before. Not fun)

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Oh, the profiles may be there whether you join or not–there are certainly more profiles there now than members. The model is like Yelp in that respect: you can’t opt out. Of course, your profile can’t be tied to your Facebook account unless and until you claim it.

    As for, I took a look and it seems mostly sophomoric. First off, I know people by name or affiliation, not by phone number. Second, the comments themselves seem to be mostly bathroom humor. Third, I have to wonder from their whole design if they’re simply encouraging prank calls.

    I have heard that there are other sites more like Unvarnished, but it doesn’t sound like any of them have created quite this much of a stir.

  • 5 Ashley // Apr 1, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Daniel, what’s your phone number?

    Oh don’t worry, I’m sure one of your “friends” is bound to have something dirty to say about you. You can’t run away from your number.

  • 6 fftt // Apr 1, 2010 at 9:01 pm


    I was (am) part of the alpha & now the beta by default.

    If you’d be interested in discussing UV further, post a response and I’ll post my email address or better yet, my Skype handle.

    I’m pretty sure that FB connect is just used as an authentication of “real personhood” (of course along with other checks).

    There is no “front end” visibility of your FB identity on UV

    AND no “leakage” of your UV reviewers back to FB.

    The only way (short of the site being hacked) for you’re real identity to surface is for your UV behavior to incite a lawsuit and UV gets a subpoena for your info.

    But don’t go on my “understanding” alone, I’m somewhat of a tech person but not a SV nerd.

    In any case my offer still stands.

    >>>>I think this is valuable going forward. I want to know what employees are going to be valuable or not and which bosses are going to be abusive. <<<<<

    This is the exact use case that UV is aiming for, not a DDTG type mud slinging site.

  • 7 Ashley // Apr 1, 2010 at 9:03 pm


  • 8 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 1, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Ashley, nice detective work, but that number’s been disconnected for a while. And I still think it’s more likely for people to look me up by name than by number.

    fftt, thanks for chiming in. And I am pretty sure, based on what I’ve seen and my conversations with Peter, that UV is aiming for something valuable. But he’s also no stranger to guerilla marketing, and I’m sure he’s enjoying the show.

  • 9 Ashley // Apr 1, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    That’s the beauty of it, Daniel. Even of it is disconected, you are still associated with that number and always will be. You can’t run away.

  • 10 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 2, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Ashley, I gotta admit that having an anonymous hater creeps me out a little, but it is what it is.

  • 11 Peter Kazanjy // Apr 2, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Thanks for the great meditations. To respond to some comments above:

    @Mr. Gunn: Distributed is attractive, but unfortunately, you would lose the ability to have obscured identities of reviewers, which would lead to same issue you have on LinkedIn recommendations: All A+ reviews…which make them less believable. Also, the challenge with distributed is that the subject of the reviews doesn’t know he’s being discussed. Kinda like people talking about you behind your back. Centralized puts it all in one place, where all parties can engage in the conversation.

    @Dennis: From what I can tell, Dirty Phonebook is for talking about who slept with whom and other nasty topics. See screenshot of the home page I just took right now:

    Pretty racy stuff.

    Unvarnished is about surfacing professional reputation information. Please don’t confuse the massive difference between these two. Also, yes, Unvarnished does require real world identity to register, though does not display it, precisely to put a brake on the kind of malicious behavior that is so prevalent (and being solicited?) on Dirty Phonebook.

    3. @fftt Dennis is repeating a very similar comment that is being commented on every single blog post about Unvarnished by someone who then touts Dirty Phonebook: that he’s afraid of joining because of the FB requirement, and that Unvarnished creates a reviewable profile for you as soon as you register, and that you reviewer behavior is displayed on Facebook. None of this is true.

    It smells like an affiliation with Dirty Phonebook, based on the thinking that Unvarnished and Dirty Phonebook somehow compete, and thus trying to sow doubt about Unvarnished.

    Anyway, Facebook is used to a. prove that you look like a “real human” on registration (a variety of checks are used), b. as a friend list that you can send review requests to, and to find people already on Unvarnished to review.

    In order to join the beta, you have to be invited by someone already on the site. And the way that you get invited, is by having that person who’s on the site request a review from you. It’s a chain of trust. The only people who can get on the site, are those who have been trusted enough by someone who’s already on to expose themselves to being reviewed by the invitee. We think that it will start the conversation off in the right direction, and we already see it working, where review content is largely positive, but there is still information surfacing about people’s areas for improvement that is extremely valuable and very hard to get anywhere else.

    Thanks again for the blog post Daniel. We’re looking forward to meeting and exceeding your expectations.

  • 12 bes mirch // Apr 2, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    “If you want to try it out and don’t mind reviewing me (anonymously) as the price of entry, let me know, and I’ll send you an invite (we’ll have to connect on Facebook first).”

    Is this ethical what you’re doing?
    You’re essentially using the power of your position to bolster your position.
    I wonder what is the social equivalent of “too big to fail” and its attendant consequences.

  • 13 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 2, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    “bes smirch” (interesting that this is the first post to attract so many anonymous comments), how is what I’m doing unethical? If you read what Peter says above, you’ll see that this is the only way I can invite get you into the beta. You are then free slam me with a one-star review–I can’t take back the invitation just because I don’t like it–assuming I can even figure out that it’s you who wrote it. If you want to get into the beta but don’t want me to know who you are, then you’ll need to get someone else to invite you. I’m sure Peter’s working hard to scale the user base and make that easier.

  • 14 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 2, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Peter, thanks for the feedback! I really like the chain-of-trust idea–very much along the lines of what Craig Newmark was advocating–and I hope that Unvarnished will manage to turn that idea into a practical reality.

  • 15 Bes Mirch // Apr 2, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    It’s not in my interest to “slam” you. But you’re blatantly (though perhaps not purposefully or knowingly) providing an incentive for positive reviews; and it’s disingenuous to claim you can’t figure out, at least roughly, who wrote what.

    Again, it’s not in my interest to “slam” you — quite the contrary. And that’s the problem.

  • 16 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 2, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Point taken. I’m not fishing for good reviews here, but I do realize that people who offer to review will bias positive. Still, I’m not sure what to suggest. You could write me a bogus review and then immediately delete it. That violates the spirit of the beta, but if you plan to review other people, then I’m willing to play along. Hopefully Peter (who is reading this) doesn’t feel that would undermine the viral growth strategy.

  • 17 fftt // Apr 5, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Bes Mirch-

    DT is offering you an invite to the beta. You do not even have to review him (now or in the future) once you get onto the beta.

    It is a bit troublesome to me that you accuse Daniel of being disingenuous ….he’s offering an entree IF you identify yourself to him via FB.

    I do not see his offer as fishing for reviews; positive or otherwise.

  • 18 Ashley // Apr 5, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Peter Kazanjy,

    Unfortunately for you, you fail to realize that 95% of the American public thinks and speaks about these “nasty topics” as you call them

    And all that sophomoric and bathroom humor is what normal everyday Americans find funny

    Nice try covering up your site like it’s only for good. You’re more evil than dirtyphonebook will ever be because you try to sugar coat it and try to control what people say and how they say it, while dirtyphonebook provides an open platform without the Nazi oversight and moderation that unvarnished promises to do


  • 19 Ashley // Apr 5, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Why do they not use Linked In which is more for professionals than facebook for verifying ?

  • 20 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 5, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Don’t know re: LinkedIn. I certainly would prefer LinkedIn-based authorization myself. If Peter is still following the thread, perhaps he can respond.

  • 21 Zainul Franciscus // Apr 5, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Unvarnished has an interesting model. Other social networking site build upon the concept of the promoting trust and social capital through their community.

    Unvarnished is doing the opposite. Here are some of my thoughts around unvarnished:

    1. Sign up and submit unbiased and credible review on other people.

    2. Pass around your Unvarnished invitation to those people who would like to help promoting other people well being.

    3. Share your thoughts and opinion about the site.

  • 22 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 5, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Unvarnished is clearly taking an unorthodox approach to this space, and the collective reaction by reporters and bloggers seems overwhelmingly negative. And perhaps people would fear the worst regardless–certainly a site like this could become a dumping ground like dirtyphonebook.

    But so far it hasn’t, at least as far as I can tell. Reviews skew positive. But even the 1-start and 2-start reviews I read are civil. I suppose that’s more damning–the negative reviews are more credible because they have a professional tone.

    I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with the guerilla marketing approach: I’m sure many people will only sign up because they’re afraid they’re being bad-mouthed. But I assume this dynamic will only be for the duration of the private beta.

    Anyway, if you want an invite, let me know. I’m happy to connect to any non-anonymous reader here on Facebook and invite you to the site. I’ll let you figure it out from there.

  • 23 Gilbert // Apr 6, 2010 at 12:32 am

    I think this will be very interesting and I really hope that it gets big. I have craved for a place to speak my mind openly where it might carry some weight. I can tell you that if there had been a place for me to check up on people, it would have saved me time and money. Daniel, I sent you a message via facebook per your offer.

  • 24 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 6, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Gilbert (and anyone else interested in an invite): I sent you a friend invite on Facebook. Unvarnished only lets me invite people from my Facebook friend list (via Facebook Connect).

  • 25 Eric Wilson // Apr 8, 2010 at 8:02 am

    I would like an invite. [email protected]

  • 26 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 8, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Eric (and anyone else): friend me on Facebook, and I’ll send you an invite. And if anyone expecting an invite hasn’t received one, please let me know.

  • 27 Lecia Kaslofsky // Apr 8, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I just sent you a friend request. OT: What do you think of Quora? Are you going to do a follow up blog on it? Others?

  • 28 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 8, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Lecia, just sent you an invite. Re Quora: I’m intrigued, but haven’t spent enough time on it yet. I will do a follow-up blog post on it when I have.

  • 29 João Teixeira // Apr 10, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    I would like an invite if someone could spare one, please 🙂

    jrteixeira [at] gmail [dot] com

    Thank you

  • 30 jacob maslow // Apr 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm


    Unvarnished sounds a bit interesting. Since it’s invite only, it should start out more positive.

    I am only going to invite people who have something positive to say.

    As people are implying, it is best to claim your name right away and do what you to keep it positive. The only thing you can do about negative reviews to your name or brand is drown it out with positive.

    You need to control the message.

    Please send me an invite.


  • 31 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 22, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Jacob: done. Curious to hear what you think of the site once you see it.

  • 32 Jacob Maslow // Apr 22, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    It encouraged me to do reviews of all my facebook freinds.

    This is purely beta and it is not even public yet. Hopefully, they can make some improvements.

    Two problems I see offhand.

    Firstly, it relies on facebook. Probably because facebook connect is easy to use. Not quite sure if linkedin can integrate. Linkedin has their own rating system. Linkedin ratings involve reciprocal recommendations. Not much credibility, but a positive from your last boss is important.

    Secondly, you don’t get anywhere without stepping on some toes. If you supervised a lot of people over the course of the years, you definitely upset some people.

    Lastly, when you work for a company you represent them, not uourself. It’s up to the company if they want to give a refund, fire people etc.

    People who make these decisions frequently have someone else represent them.

    If you work in the human resouce deparment, customer service etc this makes your job motte difficult.

    Inevitably, people who work at a poorly run company will have a much worst record than those working at a successful company.

    People tend to blame the messenger.

  • 33 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Yeah, I’m not keen on their reliance on Facebook myself–partly because I don’t really use Facebook. LinkedIn strikes me as a more meaningful starting point, but I begrudgingly accept that Facebook has a much larger user base.

    The bigger question in my mind is what will drive people to populate the system with reviews–particularly with ones that are more credible–and less uniformly positive–than LinkedIn’s recommendations. As I said earlier, everyone expects a bloodbath, but the fact is that the reviews are sparse and skew positive.

  • 34 Jacob Maslow // Apr 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    If you do a search for lord and Taylor, the local results show up third or fourth. Local results show ratings of about four stars. Few will actually read the reviews. Anyone who does will their ratings – as well as over 60 other stores were impacted by a single person with a political agenda. She copied and pasted the review to 60 merchants rumored to carry ahava products.

    One or two negatives can affect a merchant and ruin your reputation.

    These sites rarely remove reviews. I complained as to citysearch as the review clearly violates their terms of service.

    If someone was to leave me a negative, I’d have to get a bunch of people to drown it out.

    As far as unvarnished goes, the site is by invite only. The people we invite are likely to leave us a positive.

    Epinions, reseller ratings and linkedin all allow you to remove reviews that mention your name.

    There is a need for a service that is a reputation bureau that checks with an employer, boss and other straightforward criteria.

    There should also be some way for controversial people to be protected from malicious attacks. If you are a congressman, Vp at Goldman sachs etc.

    People should not have to do “reputation management”.


  • 35 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Just to clarify: the site is invite-only, but you can review people other than the person who invites you. Indeed, once you’re on the site, you can review anyone and everyone–including people who don’t even know the site exists.

    While I appreciate the potential for abuse, I’m not persuaded that people should have veto power over reviews, and more than businesses do. I’m a big fan of the First Amendment. Still, it would be nice for a site to help cultivate trustworthy reviews, so that both positive and negative reviews are credible. I think that’s what Unvarnished has as a goal, but it’s a very ambitious one.

  • 36 Jacob Maslow // Apr 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm


    It’s great that its limited to Beta so that they can hash out as many problems as possible. Unvarnished seems to be aware of the potential for abuse and damage that can be caused and is taking a deliberate approach.

    Lord & Taylor can be damaged by someone with an agenda, but not to the same extent as an individual.

    If it takes a week or longer to get a review that violates the terms of service to be removed, it is not a huge deal.

    At my last job for an appliance dealer, we were unfairly targeted due to delivery issues beyond our control.

    Due to the potential of abuse and damage that can be caused, there needs to be good filters and perhaps heightened checks for certain activity.

    One person leaving many negative reviews is suspicious, additionally anyone getting a bunch of reviews in a short time.

    Anything out of the ordinary should perhaps be delayed a bit and checked to ensure that it complies with the terms of service and is appropriate.

  • 37 Thoughts About Online Reputation // May 2, 2010 at 1:07 am

    […] recent startup, Unvarnished, is trying to create a review site with teeth. Farmer argues on his blog that Unvarnished is […]

  • 38 Eric M // May 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I have not been able to find a job of any kind since I got fired from Loomis in Baton Rouge two years ago. The Labor dept. has stated that it sounds like they are black balling me. I have some friends who’ve gotton fired also and the same thing has happened to them. The business is loosing customers fast, because they don’t deleiver all of the money which was ordered or they don’t arrive when they are supposed to. Something is wrong in that office. One friend lost a bag of money, was fired for it. However, the money was found but they refused to hire him back. Another was fired because of his partner stelling a bag, although this person was innocent of this, they still insisted that he be terminated and was fired as “aggravated misconduct” for a lost bag. Many people have stated that Loomis is extremly bad about Black Balling.

  • 39 Melinda Avni // May 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I agree with the idea, even with tackling something so ambitious. It may be a pie in the sky view on a ‘self-managing’ site, but I have always been a fan of big hairy audacious goals. I’d like to be invited, please, if you are still up to inviting folks, that is.

  • 40 Daniel Tunkelang // May 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Melinda, I recently stopped using Facebook (though not going as far as to delete my account), which means no using Unvarnished for now (since it requires Facebook Connect). But perhaps someone else here can invite you.

  • 41 Melinda Avni // Jun 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for letting me know, Daniel. Any other takers out there? I am under the same name on Facebook. I am especially curious given the examples and commentary currently placed here.
    Thank you in advance.

  • 42 priscilla kane // Jun 8, 2010 at 3:11 am

    Would someone be so kind as to please send me an invite to Unvarnished? My email is [email protected]


  • 43 priscilla kane // Jun 8, 2010 at 3:13 am

    P.S. I am under the same name, Priscilla Kane on Facebook.

  • 44 Robin Tucker // Jun 18, 2010 at 4:12 am

    I would love to get an invite. I will try contacting a couple of you to see if you ever got invites.

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