The NYT’s Bits blog introduces us to unvarnished, a site where you can “review” another person anonymously.

Here is how it works. For now, you must be invited by an existing user, and to formally register, you must first write a review of that person. Any member can review any other member, and if someone does not have a profile on the site, you can create one for them without their permission.

The person being reviewed has very little control over what is written; they cannot delete a review, but can offer a written response, or perhaps ask their friends to contribute more positive portrayals.

Facebook has a similar application called Honesty Box that allows you to leave anonymous assessments of those with a facebook page. I guess this application brings the scathing critque “straight to you”!

My initial impression is that no good can come of this. It does raise the question how we perceive our digital obligations onlines. Ilana Gershon gave a great talk at the MaCarthur Foundation’s 2010  Digital Media and Learning conference I attended last month in San Diego.  Her talk was called “Keepin’ It Real: Facebook’s Honesty Box & African-American Verbal Artistry.” The gist of the talk was that there were key differences in how White and Black students viewed “honesty box.” While White students Many white students saw the app as an unwelcomed opportunity to “say mean things” while African American students preferred to know if people out there had negative assessments about them.

While I haven’t read the paper, it brings up an interesting puzzle for me.  Should I confront negative assessments of me on the part of anonymous others.  For example, before this post, I had no idea if I am on Rate my  I didn’t want to know.  But since I was writing this post, I went on anyway and got this:

a really stand up prof! used the book a little but the majority of the work was online. he is funny and can ignite class discussions that make going to class a joy. go to this class and feel free to voice your opinions. marichal is one of the best teachers at cal lutheran.

Whew! So far so good. But then I also got this.

he never followed the syllabus so it was insanely confusing! He made it sound like we were going to cover all kinds of relevant current events, but we stayed on one topic for almost 6 weeks. By the add/drop dealine, there were NO grades in the gradebook. We were let out of class late everyday.

Ouch! But here’s the thing…is the anonymity liberating students to be authentic and thus confront me with at the very least a valuable perspective on my strengths and shortcomings or is the anonymity a unwelcomed invitation to “be mean.” If the web affords us these venues to give unsolicited and unattributable assessments of others, then how should we be in these venues? Do we give them over to spiteful nastiness? Do we try to steer them towards “authentic” critique?