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If you were a breakfast cereal, you would be called Mediocrity Flakes, tagged with "Stays bitter, even in milk!"

Time to loose [sic]that baby fat.

Stop submitting yourself to this type of criticism.

These are but some of the comments posted on Tiffany Thompson's new failin.gs account. The website, to be launched officially next month, promises to help people improve their character, with a little help from their friends.

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Users invite their Facebook contacts and Twitter followers to criticize them "constructively" - and anonymously. The disses can then be categorized ("I knew this about me" or "I had no idea") and responded to.

"I was getting tired of the milquetoast that Facebook has become, everyone faking interest in inane updates and developing fan pages for themselves," said Ms. Thompson, a 29-year-old Sault Ste. Marie graphic designer who has invited 600 people to dissect her.

"I thought it would be an entertaining yet harrowing exercise in personality development."

Failin.gs follows other sites such as GetUnvarnished.com and BetterMe.com (both geared toward professionals), as well as Honesty Box, a Facebook application that lets people tell their friends what they really think of them, without identifying themselves. Despite the risk of being emotionally eviscerated by a cloaked chorus, many are signing on.

"It is a weird thrill," Ms. Thompson says.

"Your heart kind of starts pounding while reading them and you immediately start guessing who it could possibly be," Ms. Thompson says.

Failin.gs co-founder Danny Peck, 31, agrees: "It taps into a bit of a morbid curiosity."

Like Ms. Thompson, he thinks Facebook and Twitter are "ego-stroking" tools. Failin.gs is the opposite.

"I think it gives people a medium that they don't necessarily have yet," Mr. Peck said.

The site has about 1,500 members, all invited by other users through Facebook. The Failin.gs team is using keyword-based algorithms to quarantine offensive messages.

Similar measures are in place on GetUnvarnished.com, where users can get the "inside scoop" on their business partners and employers can read up on potential hires.

After creating a profile, users can request reviews from colleagues, clients and friends through Facebook. Users can also create profiles for other people, in which case the only recourse is for a person to claim the profile and begin seeking reviews. Only "unprofessional" negative comments can be deleted, says site co-founder Peter Kazanjy.

He argues that the experience closely resembles the way a professional reputation functions in the offline world.

"Unless you're totally not self-aware, you may not actually learn too many things. It's a question of other folks being able to know this information without having worked with you for a while," Mr. Kazanjy said from San Francisco.

He added: "Unvarnished isn't the place where you go to give people F minuses. Unvarnished is the place where it's safe to give a B plus, or a B minus, but also like an A minus, or an A."

Launched last month, the site is also at an invite-only stage. Most of the 1,000 users are Silicon Valley tech professionals who were also early adopters of LinkedIn.com. They are, as Mr. Kazanjy puts it, "folks who are concerned about putting their best foot forward and making sure that the market understands how awesome they are."

(The 30-year-old's own reviews paint a picture of a proactive entrepreneur with lots of big ideas, albeit one who can be occasionally aggressive.)

As for whether anonymity makes posters more honest or irresponsible, Mr. Kazanjy says the content surfacing "has tons of nuance you would never see if there was a name attributed to it."

Shawn Morel, a 26-year-old software engineer in Palo Alto, Calif., has been on the site since its inception.

"It's kind of nice to get positive shining reviews, and there's also an incentive to be cautious about how you behave day to day professionally because there's always that possibility that somebody might give you a negative review," says Mr. Morel, who grew up in Trois-Rivières, Quebec.

"You're just hoping that for the most part they'll be truthful. If you really were a jerk repeatedly, I think that deserves to be out there."

But critics such as Franke James, founder and editor of OfficePolitics.com, believes the sites "open the door to cyber bullying."

"This is like a twisted version of the 360 reviews which HR and corporations have been using for decades. It could easily result in character assassination. The Internet is rocket fuel for bad word of mouth," said Ms. James, who is also the author of Dear Office-Politics: The Game Everyone Plays.

Calling Unvarnished a Yelp.com "for people, not products or services," she also wonders about the ramifications for libel lawsuits.

Still, users such as Mr. Morel believe the reputation sites will slowly "evolve social norms.""This whole idea that you can somehow ... have this professional persona that's plain and untarnished, and this other personal life, is going to stop existing pretty soon. It's where technology is going. People are just going to have to get used to the fact that they're going to have to actually live by the image that they're hoping to portray."

 

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