A story went viral last night about an upcoming smartphone app named "Peeple," which bills itself as being like the popular review service Yelp, except for humans instead of bars and restaurants. People are horrified by this idea. I don't think we need to worry, though, because I seriously doubt much will come of it.
To review in case you haven't heard of Peeple yet: the app, which is supposed to launch in November according to its creators, allows users to rate and review people they know in one of three ways: personal, professional, or romantic. Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, the two women behind the app, say that people must use their real name and link their accounts with their Facebook profiles in order to use it.
Oh, and you have to be 21. "Have" to be.
To protect the legitimacy of its service, Peeple says that it's going to require users to provide a person's phone number if they're adding them to the Peeple database (i.e., reviewing them for the first time). Negative reviews will remain private for 48 hours before going live so that the person being reviewed has a chance to respond. There's no clear way for people who don't want to be reviewed to politely decline having their lives and personal information plastered onto the walls of this dark virtual space, but creator Julia Cordray told the Washington Post that Peeple's "integrity features" are "fairly rigorous" when it comes to totally understandable concerns about cyberbullying, public shaming, or vote brigading-type activities. Predictably, Corday isn't quoted saying what that even means.
Before I go any further, I should note something very, very important. Peeple doesn't exist as an actual product that you can use. The only thing Peeple really is right now is an idea — and a terrible one at that. For Peeple to be anything more than an idea, it'd have to actually take off with a large audience who enjoys using the app and finds the experience that it provides to be a valuable one. And Peeple, as it's currently described, isn't going to do that.
Remember Klout? Klout was a once-seemingly important, and seemingly terrifying, social network that got a lot of buzz back in 2012 because of the miserableness of its core conceit: people would be rated and assigned a Klout "score," for which they'd receive fancy rewards and perks if they were a bona fide #influencer.
People recoiled in terror at the prospect of internet popularity suddenly being a metric that could have an impact on any number of intimate areas of your life. Would a bad Klout score mean you can't get a good job? Sceptics wondered. Would it filter out who you're connected with on online dating services? Would everyone with a lower Klout score than Justin Bieber be doomed to a life of perpetual mediocrity and unsatisfied aspirations?
What happened after the dawn of the new Klout-based age? Nothing. Nobody used Klout, and as a result, nobody gave a poop about it. It was a terrible idea for an app and a social network, so it ended up withering away into nothingness. Or next to nothingness: the service is still up and running, but it lacks the very thing it's trying to provide for its users — the same thing it's named after.
Peeple is the exact same thing as Klout. It's a crappy idea, predicated on a fundamentally nihilistic and misanthropic understanding of human nature, that isn't going to go anywhere. Pretending that Peeple is anything more than a lazy thought experiment in just how bad our technology-infuses dystopian future is gonna get is giving the app far more credit than it deserves.
But that's just what the people behind Peeple (sorry, I had to) want everyone to be doing: pretending. Pretending that this horrible new app is worthy of all the thinkpieces claiming it's a sign of the end times approaching, pretending that it's ever going to be influential enough to bring on said end times, pretending that a BS app that doesn't even exist actually snarfing matters.
If we look at the history of this kinds of social networks, we can clearly see that Peeple's never going to attain a level of popularity necessary for any of its services to actually matter or seem legitimate to anyone who knows their way around the modern social web. The only reason Peeple has even come as far as it has — being valued at $11 million — is because it's the type of cruel and hierarchical service that people inside the tech industry think is actually valuable.
But again like Klout, Peeple isn't a service that anyone outside the insular and self-absorbed world of Silicon Valley could find any legitimate use for. As I said in a comment for Newsweek earlier today: "It's fun to indulge techno-dystopian fantasies, but I don't think people are actually dumb — or cruel — enough to get behind something like this and start using it." Regular people, I mean. The kind of people who are wise and healthy enough to not feel compelled to quantify their relationships with something as callous as the IRL equivalent of a Metacritic score.
Cordray tried to defend Peeple in an interview with Newsweek by saying: "We all deserve to know who the best of the best are." Only someone trapped inside the techno-utopian bubble of startup culture could actually believe that an app can support such a technocratic and proto-fascist view of human society. Anyone with lived experience outside of that bubble knows that the entire concept of one's "reputation" is a mercurial and often frighteningly uncontrollable thing in the age of the internet. If services as huge as Facebook, Twitter, and League of Legends can't seem to solve the problem of internet toxicity, there is no reason to believe an as-yet-unreleased app that isn't even original enough to not be called "the Yelp of [something else]" will be able to.
The fact that Peeple has managed to convince some people that it's worth $11 million is more a testament to how out of touch to the needs and interests of regular people the financial community can be than it is a statement of the app's value. It's not like this is the first time that Silicon Valley has poured tons of money into a horrible idea. And it won't be the last.