People don't need Peeple: The rise and fall of a fictional app

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Last week the Internet lost its shit over Peeple. And, last week Peeple was, according to the two Calgary-based women who came up with idea, a "Yelp for people." That changed over the weekend, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last week, the idea of the proposed app unleashed a metric buttload of outrage and venom aimed at Julia Cordray and her partner, Nicole McCullough.

Basically the Peeple app would, according to the site's FAQ, allow Peeple members to give other members a star rating in professional, personal or romantic areas. But members could also create Peeple accounts for non-members if they had those non-members' cell phone numbers. 

And then, the members could rate and comment on the non-members on the account they created. And non-members couldn't delete the account that was created without their permission. So they would have 48 hours to deal with negative crap about a profile they didn't create, on a service they had no intention of joining, coming to a personal cellphone number they didn't share, and if they don't deal with it, it goes live. Lawyers worldwide were booking their Caribbean vacations.

The site's functionality among other things, made no sense. So, until this Sunday, I was pretty certain the Peeple app was a hoax. 

I had also watched all the self-absorbed videos the duo has made about their quest to build the Peeple app in 90 days. Ms. Cordray gets the lion's share of screen time as we follow the ups and downs of the cocksure meeting with lawyers, going to sessions with interface designers, talking with back-end programmers and yukking it up sans-makeup in hotel rooms. Ms. Cordray comes off as a narcissist with a worldview that makes her sound like the love child of Ayn Rand and My Little Pony. Ms. McCullough is the laughing sidekick in the background and fades from the picture as the videos progress.

But the videos' tone isn't the thing that's most worrying thing about the videos. With the exception of a short cameo by a guy who says he's from a company called Y Media Labs, we never actually see any lawyers, designers, any coders, any code, any interface or any demos. It's just the two women shooting the shit about how great the app will be and how unbelievably awesome they are for creating such an fantastic positive app -- the one that will let people rate other people without their permission. 

Y Media Labs' Facebook page has been hit by folks chastising them for creating the app, but I didn't see anything from Y Media Labs that confirms that they are actually creating it. 

And, as Snopes.com points out, it would be tricky, to say the least, for the developers to create the front and back end of such a complex app in 90 days, especially when the project is being headed by a pair that don't seem to have any app development chops -- or, frankly, judging from some of their online comments, a clear idea of how the web actually works. 

Plus, given that the duo had trouble keeping the negative comments off their Facebook page, it is hard to imagine how the app would scale once thousands of folks were talking trash about thousands of other hapless forced-to-be-members.

But, on Sunday, my opinion changed. 

Now I think Peeple is more a mental fabrication of its creators. Not a hoax, just a sad fiction.

That's because on Sunday, Julia Cordray didn't so much pivot the Peeple app idea. She basically augered it into the ground. 

On a LinkedIn post she wrote: 

"That's why Peeple is focused on the positive and ONLY THE POSITIVE as a 100% OPT-IN system. You will NOT be on our platform without your explicit permission. There is no 48-hour waiting period to remove negative comments. There is no way to even make negative comments. Simply stated, if you don't explicitly say 'approve recommendation,' it will not be visible on our platform."

She also said she "mistakenly" called the app a "Yelp for people" during a Washington Post interview, and that caused the shitstorm to hit.

First, Cordray did not make a "mistake" -- she describes the app that way in her YouTube videos and to investors. But, more importantly, the way she describes Peeple now is a 180-degree turn from how she described it before. It was supposed to help folks find a good babysitter or date, etc. And, it was clearly meant to mention the good and the bad.

On August 27, Ms. Cordray wrote: "… it's important to know the negative too. I wouldn't want this app to be just about the positive." 

But, on the weekend she wrote, "… this has always been a positivity app." 

But the pivot isn't just contradictory, it makes the site completely useless. What is the point of having any rating site that only has positive reviews of people? "Oh gee, I don't know if Cooper is awesome or not, I'd better check Peeple! Yep. She's awesome! Thanks Peeple!" 

People was supposed to launch at the end of November. You can't make a major pivot on an app just by saying so without it having a major impact on budget, timeline and work plans. So, it looked like the project plan for the app was out the window.

But that was just the start of Peeple's Sunday woes. 

Turns out, Peeple is already a product and an app and a video peephole camera for home security. And, it appears Peeple the rating app knew about that and ignored it. Of course, the peephole folks got swamped with negative Facebook posts. Perhaps in response to legal action from the other Peeple coupled with the web backlash, Cordray, on Sunday, started taking down the Peeple site, FAQs and all. 

As I write this, the site is completely gone, social media sites for the app are gone or blocked, and the YouTube videos are disappearing. It's almost as though Peeple never existed. 

And, except in the heads of the founders, I don't think it really did. Not as an app that would actually work, scale and gain traction. Probably not even as an app that would launch. Maybe as just a fictional app in an odd, self-absorbed playworld that now has crumbled to dust. 

In August, Ms. Cordray said in a video that one of the things she hoped Peeple would help users determine is: "Do they lie all the time, are they narcissistic?"

I think we know the answer now. 

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Image: forthepeeple.com

Like our coverage of digital media? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

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