I'm not a Peeple person, but...

Recently, the Internet, some newspapers and no doubt the odd pub group became truly outraged by the emergence of Peeple, the app that lets people rate other people for, well, absolutely anything. If you love/loathe your neighbours, you can rate them for being neighbours; just had a great date? Give your bae a positive rating; great service from Greg at Starbucks? Rate him up; terrible service from Nancy at your PR agency? Rate her down; had a two minute conversation with a guy in the queue at McDonalds at 2am and didn’t like his views on the McWhopper? Slate him.

In its original iteration, all you needed in order to rate someone is their phone number, they didn’t even need to sign up. Obviously no one wants their potential boss, prospective girlfriend or Mum to see their bad ratings from a collection of random strangers and estranged exes, based on their controversial McWhopper stance, so there was an outcry. the app has now pivoted to only take positive reviews and only reviews on people who have explicitly signed up for the app, rendering it pretty much useless.

In the space of a week the app has clumsily burst on to the scene, generated a lifetime’s worth of controversy, and pivoted itself into irrelevance. This is largely because it got its messaging all wrong. Co-founder, Julia Cordray, talked in interviews of her business partner Nicole McCullough having the initial idea for Peeple because “I have these neighbours, teachers teaching my children and these babysitters but didn’t really have a way of looking them up and I feel like I really should have the ability to find out who somebody is and find out their true character…”

It all smacks as a little Big Brother, and the app’s tagline, ‘Character is Destiny’ serves mostly as a foreboding reminder that anything happening on Peeple will follow you forever. This video summarises some of the feelings people have about Peeple. 

In reality, all Peeple is really doing is tapping into the reputation economy that has long since hatched and is growing at a huge rate with little objection from the general public. In fact, the same ratings approach is central to the fastest growing consumer businesses around. Uber’s mutual rating of drivers and passengers creates an expected level of behaviour from both sides, it wouldn’t work without it. AirBnB checks that you’ve got enough Facebook friends, and both guests and hosts pick and choose who stays where based on their previous reviews. Dating app Bumble, ‘the new Tinder’, just introduced ViBee, a mode allowing its highest rated users (by behaviour, not fame or number of matches) to only hear from other ViBees.

Whilst Uber’s passenger rating may have caused some obsessions with keeping a high rating (my 4.8 recently slipped to a 4.7 and I haven’t slept since), none of these features have caused outcry from the public, because we appreciate the services they provide. If that means not smashing up every AirBnB we stop in then so be it, it gets boring after the first couple anyway.

It won’t stop here, or with Peeple. AirBnB, Uber and Bumble offer a service underpinned by reputation, and Peeple takes the next step by making reputation the service, though offers no real value beyond the judgements it logs. Secco Bank, a challenger bank based in London, represents the next stage of that trend – reputation made currency. The Yang to Peeple’s Yin, Secco believes people’s value is more than their assets – it’s their reputation. It is seeking to utilise your data to charge interest based on how interesting (and consequently how good a brand advocate) you are and intends to create a market place for financial products that is based on your actual intent. So, a student with a fresh acceptance to Oxford Uni can apply for a loan to pay for tuition, and their knowledge, skills and potential will all be taken into account when the response comes, or H+K could simply choose to provide a zero interest loan because we know from that student’s reputation that we want them at H+K when they graduate, and this is an investment we’re willing to make to try and get them here. Taken to an even greater level, CEO Chris Gledhill highlights the opportunity for you or I to meet someone down on their luck, see their potential, invest a relatively small amount, and reap the financial benefits at a later date when our new friend has made it big.

Whilst I in no way endorse Peeple’s world view, its tapping of the reputation economy isn’t wrong – ideas like Secco Bank demonstrate that reputation economics could have some noticeably positive impacts. If Peeple had sold its self as a B2B company aggregating ratings from the likes of Uber and AirBnB and selling that aggregate back to reputation economy businesses as a single, accurate reputation score (thus selling a service, not scorn), maybe it could have struck gold. As it is Peeple serves as a marker of the type of thinking we need to avoid in the brave new world of ever evolving business models and constant disruption, but let’s not tar an entire new economy with the same brush.

Twitter: @PaulCrouch

Paul Crouch

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search