EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2939 - November 20, 2012     3 of 6

Former eBay Exec Aims to Resolve Disputes Online

By David A. Utter

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The issue of resolving customer conflict online commenced probably around the time the first customer received an ecommerce order and found dissatisfaction with the process. We've notably seen this with auction sites like eBay and others, where a feedback system helps but doesn't completely satisfy every single dispute to potentially arise.

It's a system where Modria founder and CEO Colin Rule, notably once the head of dispute resolution for eBay and PayPal, wants to demonstrate a better way. His company announced today the launch of their online dispute resolution platform. They refer to their product as the Fairness Engine, a name that might evoke a certain historical reference in the minds of some (ok, maybe just me.)

Modria however is a little more complex than just a reference to a thinking calculator. For companies adopting Modria's technology to aid in dispute resolution, it aims to provide a turnkey, modular approach to the process.

Through its modules, Modria collects the salient points of a dispute. It enables the disputants to discuss, on the record, the areas of contention, and suggests potential resolutions. Modria can mediate these discussions, and if parties agree it also offers the option to submit the matter to arbitration.

Such details, and the process overall, come across as something only a John Grisham grasps with surety. Fortunately, Colin Rule consented to a question and answer session with EcommerceBytes regarding Modria:

EcommerceBytes: Does resolving an issue through Modria require the object of the complaint (online seller, review site, etc.) be a Modria client? Can a random person come to Modria with a complaint about another individual or non-Modria client and alleged poor online service?

Colin Rule: Yes, a random person can come to the Modria site and file a dispute (at Dispute.Modria.com). We'll contact the respondent and do our best to urge them to participate. This is the way most community and commercial dispute resolution organizations work - once a case is reported they handle the outreach to the respondent.

It's usually more effective if the parties mutually agree up front to participate, and we are proactively reaching out to online marketplaces and reputation systems to get them to opt-in before any of their users file a dispute, but we will handle outreach to the respondent even if we've never communicated with them before.

EcommerceBytes: What steps take place if the initial resolution action isn't acted upon by the party required to act? Does the complainant pay for additional escalation?

Colin Rule: The best case is when the parties agree on a mutually acceptable resolution, because then they are both very likely to adhere to the agreement. If there is concern that one side or the other won't follow through, the agreement can be drafted as a contract that both parties e-sign - and that's enforceable in a court if need be. Modria can enforce some types of outcomes, while other outcomes require third-party enforcement (e.g. a marketplace, or a payment system enacts the agreed upon resolution). Modria can also conduct arbitration processes where the parties are legally bound to abide by the decision rendered by the arbitrator.

EcommerceBytes: With Modria having been around for a while, what significant changes are taking place starting Monday?

Colin Rule: Modria has been working with several channel partners to resolve disputes over the last year. Now Modria is expanding to offer services to non-partners. Mediators can get their own Mediation Rooms at MediationRoom.Modria.com. Individuals can file disputes directly at dispute.modria.com.

Any website (or individual eBay seller) can now request a customized resolution flow to be integrated into their website, or hosted at *.modria.com. So this announcement is really Modria's general availability to the public. We want to make our "Fairness Engine" widely available, to help people resolve part of the epidemic of unresolved minor injustices that take place across the internet every day.

EcommerceBytes: Regarding the purloined photograph situation described on the Modria blog, what would the steps be in resolving this?

Colin Rule: Well, that's a complex scenario - that's why we posed it on the blog! Ideally the stock photo website would agree to cooperate with the Modria system, so the complainant (the person whose photo was stolen) could report the case, and a representative of the stock photo site would respond within the Modria platform. Evidence could be shared (via upload, or link to a third party photo site) that would convince the stock photo representative that in fact the photo was the property of the complainant, and the photo would be taken down.

If the stock photo website refused to participate, then the complainant could file a case with a consumer protection organization or and intellectual property office via the Modria system to report the violation - and those agencies would put pressure on the stock photo website to remove the photo, under threat of legal action. And at least, if the stock photo site refused to participate and no public channel was available, the complainant could publicize the case and warn other users about the IP violation they experienced on that stock photo site, which could pressure the stock photo site to take the infringing image down.

EcommerceBytes: Your interview with EcommerceBytes last year discussed ebaycourt.com, which is only available in India (although it currently seems to be offline). This still hasn't been rolled out worldwide. Why do you think this isn't more widely available, and how has Modria overcome whatever those issues may be?

Colin Rule: The issue with the eBay Court was that the project lead in India left the company, so there was no one to continue to host the effort internally. Such is the way of things at a big company. But the eBay Community Court lives on in the Gebruikersjury, which is live in The Netherlands as part of the eBay site Marktplaats.

I wanted the eBay Court to expand to all eBay feedback globally, but it was not to be (you can ask the eBay Feedback team about why they made that decision).

We are still working with eBay on the Independent Feedback Review program in eBay Motors, and we were able to help get this program extended recently into Business and Industrial categories.

I am optimistic that Modria will be able to build more resolution flows for eBay and PayPal moving forward - but it will only happen if the community of eBay buyers and sellers continues to make the case and explain the value.

About the Author
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. Find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.


About the author:

David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. Send your tips to media@davidautter.com and find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.


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