First, There Was Lulu: What Peeple Has Yet To Learn About The Business Of Reviewing Human Beings

As we were all losing our minds over the yet-to-be-released Peeple app, the makers of Lulu had to be feeling at least a little bit of déjà vu. After all, the business of reviewing people has been in question since their app came out in 2013. Since coping with the controversy surrounding their human reviews — specifically, women reviewing men they knew, slept with and had dated —  Lulu has regrouped and kept a low profile while still allowing women to post feedback about the guys they know. Lulu and Peeple may be different apps in some key ways, but Lulu’s experience offers some important lessons that the makers of Peeple should consider before putting their app on the market.

The Frisky spoke with Lulu co-founder and editorial director Alison Schwartz about how the brand has dealt with similar issues, though she made it clear that we can only speculate about the Peeple experience based on screenshots, and a full assessment would require using the app. Still, Schwartz does understand what it’s like to be misunderstood by the marketplace in regards to such reviews.

“The challenge with Lulu was that people didn’t really understand or take the time to think about what we were doing,” Schwartz said about the media’s initial response to Lulu. She clarifies that Lulu’s mission has always been the same, which is to create “the ultimate mobile destination for women to share experiences and make better decisions about all things.” She said that Lulu started with dating because they saw there was a demand in that arena, but Schwartz maintains that Lulu’s sole purpose was never just to be about reviewing men.

From what we know about Peeple, the human reviews on Lulu differ in several ways. With Lulu, users can only pick from multiple-choice predetermined hashtags, while Peeple allows users to write in whatever they want. Schwartz told us that they have never considered adding open fields for writing reviews as an option on Lulu, and that the multiple choice hashtag system for rating has helped them curate a more positive experience. Lulu’s goal was for the app to be entertaining and purposeful, without giving people the opportunity to abuse that goal by writing whatever they want.

The most apparent gap between Lulu’s reviews and the potential posts on Peeple is the opt-out policy, an area where Lulu has had to adapt as well. Schwartz claimed that Lulu has always had a “robust” opt-out policy where guys can remove themselves from the system without joining the app. But in March 2014, Jezebel broke the news that Lulu had a new opt-in policy, where guys had to voluntarily sign up with the app in order to be reviewed. According to Schwartz, this past February they moved back to their original opt-out system, saying that it was a better balance for business because “Lulu is most valuable to users when there’s more guys on there, but we’re also very respectful of guys who do not want to be on there.” She also claimed that more than a third of male users returned to Lulu after removing themselves.

Schwartz credited consumer feedback for helping to calm down the initial controversy and shape where Lulu is at today, and she advised the founders of Peeple to do the same. “All entrepreneurs need the strength of their convictions to stay true to their vision,” she said respectfully. “But you can’t be so indoctrinated in your own vision that you don’t listen to users.”

Schwartz said that she’s learned that people can be sensitive and that apps like Lulu may not be for everyone. Most importantly, she is cognizant of the massive difference between reviewing products and reviewing people, saying, “I think reviewing products is different than reviewing people and that’s why Lulu took so much care in designing our product.” This fact that has thus far seemingly escaped the founders of Peeple, which positively aligns the two as part of their overall pitch. “People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions,” Peeple co-founder Julia Cordray. “Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?”

Unfortunately for Cordray and her business partners, the media and potential consumers have made it clear that reviewing goods and services will always be different from reviewing our fellow human beings. To get users to sign up with their app, Peeple will need to offer more than momentary amusement to outweigh the downsides that come with this type of invasion of privacy. In Lulu’s case, Schwartz and her cofounders discovered that the could attract more willing male users if they created a better experience by incorporating a dating/matchmaking component. But given the public’s overwhelmingly horrified response to even the idea of people reviewing their fellow man, Peeple certainly has their work cut out for them.