The Low-Down on “Peer Based Verification”

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Meet Janet Jones. She’s the Chief Marketing Officer of BeenVerified, a former marketing executive at Goldman Sachs and a Harvard Business School alum. In the early days of BeenVerified, you could see Janet’s impressive LinkedIn profile for yourself. Unfortunately, Janet’s profile no longer exists, but we’ll get back to why in a second.

Like any savvy professional, Janet used her LinkedIn profile to leverage her Harvard Business School network by connecting with other alumni, students, and faculty. Can you blame her? In fact, within one week, Janet connected with 14 other LinkedIn profiles associated with Harvard.

What is “Peer-Based Verification?”

The fact that several of Janet’s LinkedIn “connections” were also Harvard alum ensures the authenticity of her profile, right? That logic is what we’re calling “peer-based verification.” LinkedIn is one of hundreds of social sites that at least in part, rely on peer-to-peer based verification to ensure the integrity of its network.

Take other sites like Facebook or Twitter. If you were on these popular social networks, see someone you knew through a friend, it would add that layer of authenticity, or at least give you some kind of peace of mind, right? In short, having that mental check box through some kind of verification adds trust.

The problem with “Peer-Based Verification”

So, now that we’ve filled you in on the savvy Janet Jones, here’s a little kicker for you: I’m the real CMO of BeenVerified, not Janet Jones. I couldn’t get into Harvard, but I did attend Indiana University. (Go Hoosiers!)

Janet Jones doesn’t exist. In fact, Janet Jones was once the star of BeenVerified’s marketing efforts until LinkedIn pulled her profile. After reading our initial blog post about “peer based verification” back in 2008, LinkedIn decided to remove the profile (without contacting the owner of the profile…us).

I guess telling the world that you created a fake LinkedIn profile makes it an easy case for the people in charge with dealing with monitoring the site. But, this made me wonder what would have happened if we never said anything? While we’ll never know, my guess is that Janet would be alive and kicking, networking through LinkedIn to her heart’s content.

Here’s the thing. BeenVerified loves LinkedIn. It’s an amazing resource and we’re definitely not singling them out. After all, it’s just as easy to create fake information and build a reputation on LinkedIn as it is on ANY website. In fact, our entire team benefits from LinkedIn’s terrific service. Furthermore, we know LinkedIn does more than just rely on their “peer-based verifications” to protect their community. What we’re trying to point is that while there are many strengths, there are obviously weaknesses in many current social practices.

We also understand that there are many cases where “peer-based verification” provides enough authority to facilitate communication. Say you have a friend on Facebook and while browsing their profile, you notice they are chatting with the CEO of your dream company. This sort of verification (after discussing with your friend, of course), provides that mental “OK” you need, vs. not knowing the person at all.

When it comes down to it, it really depends on the individual use case. However, as you can see, there are certain situations where peer-based verification simply falls short. This is where the need for third-party verification is pretty vital. For you to actually know Janet Jones or even me, you probably need more than a “mutual connection” box. You need legitimate and substantial proof that people are who they say they are.

In the case of Janet, we obviously prove that additional services are needed and better solutions are vital because we’re only going to get more social. So, chose your sides. Do you want to be a Janet or do you want to be a Danny? (Hint: the second is way cooler.)


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