How Far Are We From a Personal Yelp? And Who is Responsible for Deciding if it’s Right or Wrong?

May 12, 2014, 5:33 a.m.

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A friend told me about a recently submitted review of a restaurant that based entirely on the fact that the owner (or at least a person driving a car heavily labelled with said restaurant’s logo) stole their car parking space. In reality, the personality of the owner doesn’t necessarily impact the quality of the food or experience as shown by any number of famous chefs, yet she felt that by behaving that way, the owner/driver was there to be shot at for not obeying the general laws of not being a crap human, I quote “If only there was a yelp for all of us”. 

So how far away are we from a Yelp for people? Increasingly, we hear about how the currency of the future will be your reputation, and how the more media savvy individuals amongst us already actively manage and manipulate their internet presence, shoving the bad stuff down the settee of Google search-you can’t remove it entirely, but you can limit it to only the most thorough or spiteful.

What is out there today?

This is something that seems an inevitable extension of what we have today. Existing social networks like Facebook are not a natural forum for this, as it is foused on connections (despite a real and uncontrollable problem with internet bullying). LinkedIn has taken the alternative route, really only allowing for positive feedback in the business environment, which results in questionable motives and validity.  Twitter is probably closer to the mark today, but it’s not really the same thing. 

What would this all look like?

So what does this mean for all of us? Is this a right wing dream where finally, those amongst us that have done nothing wrong (which of course is an oxymoron) will rise to the top? Or does this become much like the road points system where after some initial harsh punishments, everyone regresses to the median and “having points” is the norm in financial/insurance terms.

What would such a website/application look like? Well it would need to name and shame. You can’t publically criticize another human being under the pseudonym “rightisright538”, where’s the accountability? But of course this would limit its use to only the bitterest and most resentful; as the cliché goes, “you cannot please all of the people all of the time” or to vernacularize “haters gonna hate”.  

Just because we can doesn't mean we should

Although most likely clothed under the guise of something else, this type of application is kind of an inevitability given the direction technology is heading. This type of accountability is currently a small itch in the unreachable back of the broader IoT and ambient intelligence movements, which today focus on the positives of enabling an easier life for all. This move towards what will ultimately become second by second accountability is great in a world that has structure and where people don’t break moral or legal codes. But as we have seen in the economics world, trying to apply such modelling to human behavior is both fictitious and at its worst financially catastrophic.

Innovation cannot be held back by exaggerated fears compounded by the press, but as the great thinker Daniel Hahnemann (author of this last year’s “tipping point”, “thinking, fast and slow”) stressed at Davos a few years back, we need to think in terms of the worst case scenario to help guide us towards making, if not the right decision, a decision of least repercussions. I for one could do without everyone else knowing about the stupid cringey things I regret doing but ultimately have done. I haven’t gotten around to following all of the religions but isn’t that level of judgment generally supposed to be for when we die? The technology market moves far too quickly for worthwhile local regulation, in an area that requires fluid worldwide regulation. So it is down to the inventors to decide where the line is. Just because we can do it, and someone might pay to do it, isn’t justification for doing it. Developers really need to consider the worst case scenario for future applications like a human Yelp.