Rasvanth Chunylall
Rasvanth Chunylall

The People vs Peeple: A case study in how not to create an app

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if people could be united through friendship and positivity? These intentions motivated the creation of Peeple, a mobile application that would allow people to rate other people (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars) on their personal, professional and romantic appeal. A sort of Hellopeter but for people instead of businesses. The surprising part is that founders, Nicole McCullough and Julia Cordray, did manage to unite people even before their app was beta-tested. But I don’t think they envisioned the hand-holding would manifest against them.

The blames lies on the more eye-brow raising tenants of the app. Anyone with your cellphone number could create a profile for you. Once they do so, you’d receive a text message telling you who started your profile. Don’t want a profile? Tough. No one would be allowed to remove their profile off Peeple. Reviews would only go back one year so you’d have to have your name attached to any negative reviews posted about you for that period. The good people at — ahem — Peeple also reserve the right to reserve changes to any features on their app now and in the future. Peeple’s FAQ site was also fuzzy on how the content posted on the app would be used.

Naturally, not many were happy at the thought of being bullied into becoming a part of the app’s community. Peeple’s social media platforms were hit with a deluge of negative comments on Twitter and Facebook. Many questioned the app’s idealism that potential users would act positively and instead become a source of harassment and abuse. People fussed about being objectified against their will. While only 3 star and above ratings would be posted immediately without scrutiny, some questioned how the site would be able to distinguish between genuine compliments and backhanded ones.

On a personal level, I was concerned that the app was more than a little arrogant against people who have mobile numbers but no access to the internet. One only needs to look at our own penetration rates here in South Africa where mobile phone adoption rates are growing but access to internet remains relatively low. What happens if Joe Somebody’s employer creates his profile and leaves a less than favourable response disguised as a compliment and he is unable to defend himself?

The whole affair was an unmitigated disaster. The media was critical and some even began questioning whether the site was nothing more than a hoax. Ouch.

Peeple added further fuel to the fires of negativity threatening to sink their ship. They adopted a passive-aggressive stance through their postings, accusing people of bullying them and not getting what they were trying to achieve. Ironically, they would also delete unfavourable comments on Facebook and post positive comments from users with suspiciously generic names. It was bragged that hundreds of users were signing on to their beta testing but their Facebook likes were not reflecting the enthusiasm.

It is quite telling that Peeple negated much of their online presence on Sunday. Their website has disappeared. Twitter and Facebook have been deactivated. Their Instagram account has been set to private. Their YouTube page remains but much of the content has been removed.

Julia Cordray has since released a statement on LinkedIn clarifying her app’s approach and the new changes that will be made. She remains confident that Peeple will be released at the end of November. But, the damage has been done. Peeple will likely be remembered as little more than a cautionary tale in how misguided ideals, hypocrisy and poor engagement with potential users can stifle app-development before it even gets a chance to breathe.

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