What if you could rate everything... and everyone?
A new website founded by openly gay Dallas real estate agent Lacey Brutschy allows user to do just that. From places of business to the people that frequent them to the owners of your housing complex, how would it feel to hold people accountable for their real life actions over the Internet?
Sound complicated? A bit. But Brutschy has a plan that includes checks and balances of user ratings. The Huffington Post chatted with her this week to learn more about her new endeavor, Exxempt.com.
The Huffington Post: Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when the idea for Exxempt hit you?
Lacey Brutschy: The idea for Exxempt.com started out in a rather different note. I was looking to build a new website for our real estate company, Carolyn Shamis Realtors, because the UX just wasn’t appealing to me anymore. My office decided they didn’t want to go in the direction I wanted in terms of the site. So I thought about branching out on my own. The idea was to build a real estate website that not only showed buyers what was out there to purchase, but also invite them to rank and review their real estate agents and apartment complexes.
I had encountered constant complaints on social media regarding a lack of accountability in Dallas in regards to real estate agents and apartment complexes, and I wanted to make a site where we could hold these two pillars of people and places to a higher standard. How amazing would it be if you knew an apartment complex had awful reviews or management prior to moving in? It’s unheard of and yet extremely necessary as a way to protect the consumer.
Then the idea grew much, much deeper. What if you could not only rank real estate agents and apartment complexes, but everyone? What if you could hold everyone to a higher standard of behavior? What if you became a beacon of hope for people wanting to honor their word and raise the veil on corruption, greed and behavior that just plain isn't nice? My idea slapped me across the face pretty hard while I was eating breakfast with my web developer. Once we let that idea roll, it snowballed into what is now Exxempt.com.
How did you move from Exxempt just being an idea banging around in your head to actually going about making it a real social networking site?
This leads to not only where Exxempt.com came from, but where it is going as well. The thought of leaving rankings and reviews stemmed from the idea that everyone needs to be accountable for their actions. However, managing what content was true and what was slanderous seemed like a great way to start a gossip website, which is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do. We wanted to steer away from gossip and bullying as much possible, so we came up with the following ideas:
1) Allow users to have a fully verified profile. Once the user has a verified profile, the user is accountable for their actions. There is no hiding behind a username and bad mouthing on Exxempt.com.
2) We removed negative comments in the public space completely. Now, a user can post a comment and mark it as positive or negative. Negative comments are sent in a private message, and positive comments are shown publicly. Negative comments can be chosen to be seen by the user, or the user never has to look at the private message center ever. The reviews are in the users’ hands, and that’s how we can create a community.
3) If a positive comment is flagged as being negative, we then remove the comment and respond to the user directly with our definitions of what can and cannot be written as a positive comment.
Exxempt will allow users to rate individuals -- not just companies. That seems like it could open up the opportunity for people who have been spurned by someone to leave comments that might not be objective or even fair. How do you ensure accountability for those using the site?
I would have to say that society actually isn’t obsessed with rating -- although it certainly seems to be. I’d say society is more fearful of it than anything else based on the reactions we have received about the site and its intentions. How scary is it to have a website that will actually raise the veil on what it is that you’ve done? People on the Internet being accountable for real world actions is something that really just scares the pants off of society.
What do you think people are going to be the most surprised by when using Exxempt?
There are several really different features Exxempt.com brings to the table, but I am a really big fan of one idea the most. We will have what is called the “real deal” users. These users can be tracked based on where they check in, who they check in with and what neighborhoods they frequent. These Real Deal users will be able to be favorited and followed by users on the site, causing each Real Deal to accumulate a following for how they are living their lives.
Are you an aspiring yogi? Maybe follow someone who’s checking into a yoga studio that has excellent reviews. How are that person’s comments? What are their favorite places and things to do in town? What would they do with all the money in the world? Would they shop at the same stores? This is something that’s just incredibly different. It allows the users to be totally in control of who they want to favorite and of who becomes a Real Deal user. Maybe that user goes to two restaurants you love and the third one he or she checks in just looks amazing, you’ll want to go!
And you're the one who is doing the tracking. You’re in control of who’s cool and what’s interesting because it’s what’s cool and interesting to you. No one else. Who cares what someone else thinks? This is about you and your experience and your people.
How do you see your sexuality as playing a part in the success of this venture? Do you think your queerness allowed you to see the world in a different way? Or would you say your sexuality has nothing to do with this?
Because of my sexuality, my craving for a sense of belonging began at a rather early age and that’s really what this site is about. It’s about finding where you belong in the most fun possible way. When I was living in South Carolina after college, I learned very quickly where I was and where I was not welcome, based on my appearance. I wore khakis, button downs, converse sneakers and blazers everywhere, and I wore my hair pretty short. You’d have to be blind to not assume I was walking the lesbian tightrope. I learned not to drink a lot because I needed my wits about me in case someone got belligerent, and I learned to never have my back to the door -- something I still cary with me today.
There were two times I remember being blindly ambushed -- in the same bar with a friend of mine. I wish I had Exxempt.com to tell me the bar I was in wasn’t going to take kindly to me. However, what I really would have wanted Exxempt.com for would be to tell this story. Not only was I rushed immediately by three men walking into the bar, two of whom were ready to fight me, I was rushed from the opposite side by three men I didn’t know who protected me. The men behind me shoved passed me immediately and dragged the people coming to hurt me out of the bar. It was a fuss, to be honest. My protectors walked in, let me know the other men had left, and apologized on their behalf. “We don’t do that to women,” one of them said. Exxempt.com would have let me comment about the bar having the most wonderful of patrons, who went out of their way to protect a stranger simply because it’s the South and that’s what you do. I live in Dallas now, and while people say the city is safer and easier to it's be gay here, I can tell you that I’ve had an issue or two here and the people haven’t spoken up as much as they did for me that night in South Carolina.
At the end of the day, what do you hope users take away from Exxempt?
I want people to find where they belong quicker, to find their place and to thrive. I want people to realize that they are cool and that everyone is cool in their own way. But not everyone is going to be into what you're into. And that’s fine. I know I may think karaoke is the best time ever, but another person can think it’s lame. What’s the real difference but personal opinion? The difference is nothing. Nerds unite! Hipsters hail! Yogis commune! Yuppies rejoice! All that matters is finding your people and figuring out where it is that your people live, work and play.
Head here to visit Exxempt.com.