Last week, news of the coming launch of Peeple, described as a "Yelp for People," sent the Internet into a frenzy.
People were outraged by the very concept: namely, that you could use an app to rate anyone on almost any grounds -- personal, professional, or romantic.
Then something mysterious happened: the app's website seemingly disappeared. At least, the site disappeared for many trying to access it, according to BBC. Some browsing the internet landed on a page that read "Join the positive revolution #oct12."
The change in presentation, from a fleshed-out website complete with video, text and photos, could be a response by Peeple's founders to a barrage of criticism over the internet and from media outlets. Before the site was all but removed, however, people were already raising questions about whether Peeple was ever intended to grow into the Yelp-like service its founders framed it to be.
Snopes, a website that investigates Internet rumors, already has raised suspicions of its existence as a real startup, citing the fact that the inexperienced co-founders and the Peeple website seemed to come out of nowhere and don't have much of a web presence.
Ed Zitron, founder of the New York City- and San Francisco-based EZPR public relations firm, which focuses on consumer tech startups, questioned last week whether the Peeple app would launch at all or whether the hoopla served as the lead up to something else.
“I think people fell for a very elaborate hoax,” says Zitron, author of This Is How You Pitch: How to Kick Ass in Your First Years of PR and a columnist for Inc.
One red flag for Zitron: Much of the social media marketing around the idea emphasizes Cordray personally.
Tweets sent out Friday about an appearance on CNBC and registration of beta users included Cordray’s name as a hashtag, but made no mention of co-founder Nicole McCullough. McCullough appears not to have participated in any interviews about the startup, though she appears in a series of YouTube videos about the startup's development.
Cordray said on CNBC that she and McCullough had been targeted by threats and bullying. She said the app was misunderstood and that it "really is a positivity app for positive people."
Let's assume no new service that would allow you to rate acquaintances in personal, professional or romantic capacities is forthcoming. So, what's happening Oct. 12?
Cordray has dropped a few cryptic hints. She recently told Inc. contributor Justin Bariso, founder of consulting firm Insight, "We were humbled by the public's reaction and were excited to evolve on our concept while gauging the world's input."
"We look forward to October 12, 2015 where we will be taping for an exclusive talk show and expose our concept to the world," she told BBC in an email.
It wouldn't be the first startup to generate publicity with a nonexistent product. In 2013, an app called LoveRoom, supposedly the "Airbnb for attractive people," generated a lot of press and internet outrage until Kashmir Hill of Forbes got the founder to admit it was "really more of a joke." Thanks to that attention, however, the idea became an actual product, one that pairs singles for short-term cohabitation.