Joseph Reagle, Northeastern – Peeple

Would you rate your friends like you rate a business on Yelp?

Joseph Reagle, assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, explains how you might get the chance to find out soon.

Joseph Reagle is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern. He’s been a resident fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard (in 1998 and 2010), and he taught and received his Ph.D. at NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. Dr. Reagle is the author of Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web (MIT Press, 2015) and Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia (MIT Press, 2010). As a Research Engineer at MIT’s Lab for Computer Science he served as an author and working group chair within the IETF and W3C on topics including digital security, privacy, and Internet policy. He also helped develop and maintain W3C’s privacy andintellectual rights policies (i.e., copyright/trademark licenses and patent analysis). Dr. Reagle has degrees in Computer Science (UMBC), Technology Policy (MIT), and Media, Culture, and Communication (NYU). He has been profiled, interviewed, and quoted in national media including Technology Review, The Economist, The New York Times and American and New Zealand Public Radio. His current interests include life hacking, geek feminism, and online culture.



The forthcoming app Peeple—spelled with two EEs–has attracted a lot of negative attention.

The public is upset because the app, due in November, will let people rate one another as if they were products on Amazon.

Even worse, the service did not initially intend to ask folks for permission to be included or even let them opt-out.

In following the hub-bub about Peeple, I’m struck by two things.

First, they claim the idea is novel.

But this isn’t true.

In my work, I write about our penchant for rating and ranking everything, including other people.

Services like PersonRatings let coworkers rate one another.

Apps like Lulu allow women to rate their dates.

Services like Klout take information already on the Web so to rank individuals.

The defunct apps Stamped and Oink could rate anything, be it a coworker, side of bacon, or ice-cube.

What is novel about Peeple is their attempt at positivity.

So many of the preceding systems have permitted anonymous ratings and skewed towards the negative.

At Peeple, raters will be known and graded on how positive they are in their own ratings of others.

However, in my studies of these systems, I’ve found that it’s easy for ratings to slip into bland positivity (where everyone is above average) or bullying negativity, with much manipulation in between.

Will folks collude to positively rate their friends?

Can they still insult their enemies while maintaining their positivity rating?

For example, you could give many 5-star ratings to strangers so as to balance out a single-star given to a rival.

We now live in a world where it’s trivial to rate and rank everything, including other people.

But that doesn’t mean it can be done well, or that it should even be done at all, as tempting as it might be.