More and more articles and presentations at conferences this year deal with the topic of the future of online dispute resolution (ODR). All of the authors argue in favor of a very bright future of ODR. Many commentators speak about the next global reform of judicial systems which is going to happen through ODR technology. I agree with that.
For me the beauty of ODR is that it is more than just a way how to start reforming justice system. I understand ODR as a component of the change of communication behaviour of people on the Internet. And this change has already started. How many of Internet users have not bought anything online yet? This has become almost a stupid question. Yet how many of Internet users have been reading user terms or privacy policies? Extremely little, these legal documents are dead. The coming changes are about communication between buyers and sellers, about increased satisfaction of all persons online.
The changes are not lead by governments, academics and judiciary, even though the European Commission dreams otherwise. The changes are lead by e-commerce innovators and their customers. Doug Searl speaks about "creating good manners" on the Internet – this is a role of ODR which I like. In this role ODR will not be alone, it will become interconnected with other components of "creating good manners in the online environment" such as new privacy tools etc. In my imagination ODR is a new way of communicating online in order to get more satisfaction:o) For me this approach to ODR is at least similarly exciting as the justice reform and is actually closer to Youstice than the justice reform.
From this perspective ODR is much wider than just a technology for resolving complaints or disputes. It enables businesses to get to know again what their customers really want in terms of their customer feelings and preferences. Do customers care only about receiving their money back? How much do they care about their privacy and security? Or apology? Do they want to have a bigger say than today about how their issues are resolved? What is fair and what is not on the Internet? How to define and respond to a simple question: is it safe to buy from this online shop?
Mass market ODR will not be only about protecting customers more! It must protect retailers and service providers in a global scale. But how is it possible to protect globally retailers who for some reasons cannot require payment in advance? How to protect them efficiently and still be compliant with ever strenghening legislation protecting consumers, for example in the EU? To answer these questions one might need to develop a global closed ODR system – i.e. system which would incorporate the whole ODR process including efficient remedies and their enforcement against not only retailers but also their non-behaving customers.
We need to build and test new ODR platforms and systems having these questions and roles in mind. We are in the beginning of new experiments – experiments about communication and feelings not only about cases and disputes. ODR will be interlinked in these new services with other services and products from different areas. The experiments should not be only theoretical, they must be realized in practice, this is the way how to obtain persuasive results. For this to happen we need to have ODR as a mass market service – we are not there yet, ODR is still marginal.
So what will come first: new services and platforms or ODR systems which will become popular in the mass scale? I guess both might happen in parallel. We shall see soon…