Editor's Note 5/12/14: eQuibbly has recently re-launched and offers a more focused service (only private online arbitration) and no longer uses crowdsourcing for dispute resolution.
The recent startup eQuibbly.com serves as a platform for resolving disputes, allowing people to post arguments and users to vote for the side they agree with. In a review of the site, the Verge questions whether the new website’s crowdsourcing is a bad idea, or if it will lead to a more civilized world. Though using votes to come to a resolution may seem irrational, this is, in fact, a method many of us already use and one that has proven to effectively solve problems.
The way the site works is by giving users the option to post a dispute, either by using their names or posting anonymously. Users can then request for the opposing party to submit their counterargument. After the two sides are displayed, people vote for the party they favor most until, after seven days, the countdown timer reaches zero, and the dispute is decided. There is no specific age group to categorize the users, but the sense eQuibbly gets from its analytics tools is that they range between 18 to 45 years old and live in all regions of the U.S. and Canada.
With his background in investment banking and management, Lance Soskin, eQuibbly’s founder and president, started the site after personally witnessing the slow pace, complications and expenses related to litigation and dispute settlement. He launched the website as a quick, simple, cheap and fair alternative to solving disputes. I spoke with Soskin about the new site to get his thoughts on how eQuibbly is doing so far, and what crowdsourcing debates will mean for our ability to make decisions.
When the Verge asked if anyone would ever use the site, commentors showed concern about shallow disputes and unfair voting, Soskin pointed out that eQuibbly’s disputes vary from superficial to meaningful conversations. For example, a dispute titled, “My child’s father is not being resonable” constrasts with another titled, “My Roommate Should Buy His Own Damn Beer and Booze.” (In fact, the case “My child’s father is not being resonable” has not reached a decision yet, but has headed in an interesting direction.)
“One issue that had a rough start but that is still in progress and seems may have a positive outcome is a dispute between an ex-husband and wife over visitation rights to their young daughter, titled ‘My child's father is not being resonable’ [sic] on eQuibbly.com. After posting their dispute publicly and telling both sides of their stories, they received good feedback from other users. Eventually, two professional mediators offered their services," Soskin said.
"Even though the Parties had tried and failed with in-person mediation sessions prior to discovering eQuibbly, they decided to take one of the mediators up on their offer to move the dispute into one of eQuibbly's secure ‘private virtual rooms.’ The mediator offered her services for free if they continued using eQuibbly until a resolution was achieved. It made sense to mediate online since one Party is in Dallas and the other is in Austin. I touched base with the mediator recently to see how the resolution was progressing and although she said she could not disclose the specifics due to her professional ethics code, she did say that it is still moving ahead in a positive direction.”
For these particular parties, using eQuibbly’s services appears to have been a beneficial choice that has directed progress in their case, which remained unsuccessful when they sought out mediation on their own.
As for the unfair voting, it is possible for a party with many friends to receive the most votes, but Soskin noticed that the site’s visitors have voted regardless if they knew a party or not.
Ultimately, as eQuibbly’s popularity grows, so will the number of users, eliminating the need for parties to depend on votes from their friends.
An important question of personal privacy also arises from a site like this. Does eQuibbly infringe upon our personal privacies and how much security does it offer us?
Soskin confirmed that eQuibbly is far less of a privacy risk than sites like Facebook, Google or even web applications. Since it only takes one party to post a dispute publicly, the opposing party may see this as a privacy issue. eQuibbly’s “Rules for Posting” indicates that users must post legitimate and truthful disputes that do not reveal confidential information, such as credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, other government-issued identification or home addresses. Parties have the opportunity to refute accusations made by opposing parties and include images and documents to prove their argument.
Since crowdsourcing in a crucial part of resolving disputes on eQuibbly, it draws attention to our own abilities. As we crowdsource answers for personal problems, are we made less capable of solving problems on our own? Soskin pointed out that people “have always turned to others in their ‘group’ or ‘community’ for advice on dealing with a myriad of issues, from which spear to use to take down a saber tooth to what to do if you suspect your spouse is cheating. Extremely few people make decisions in complete isolation. Even Barack Obama turns to his advisors before making any final decisions.”
eQuibbly offers disputing parties the option to post either “non-binding” disputes or “legally binding” disputes. These parties are typically seeking advice on who is right and suggestions that may help them resolve their dispute. Often, eQuibbly is a last resort for people who have sought out advice from others, or who have tried to negotiate in person and failed to resolve anything. As a result, they turn to independent third parties who can review the facts and evidence without any emotional attachment and reach a final decision.
This is similar to what courts do to resolve disputes; the difference is that eQuibbly is an affordable alternative to arriving at a resolution.
I imagine that the website can also be used as a form of therapy, especially for “shallow” disputes. In place of seeking out a therapist to work out personal problems (e.g. cheating spouse), people have the opportunity to pursue advice without ever leaving their homes or spending money on fees for visits. Instead of making us less capable of solving problems on our own, eQuibbly can be seen as a tool that can help us figure out how to solve those problems and any future issues that come our way.
In addition to questions regarding our problem-solving abilities, we must also ask, is the world becoming too social, or is this the natural progression of social media?
Soskin says, “I don't believe the world is any more social than it ever was. It's just a different type and a different scale and speed of ‘social.’ We are by nature social creatures; we always have been. The only difference now is that we have better tools at our disposal to communicate with more people, in more distant places, in a more efficient way. It's not for me to say whether the world has become ‘too social.’ It is really something that each individual has to decide for themselves and act accordingly. Not everyone needs or wants a Google+ account, or a Twitter account, or even a Facebook account. But those that do are likely to see the value and natural progression eQuibbly lends in leveraging social media to resolve their disputes.”
As the world evolves and socialization continues to change, eQuibbly may just be the instrument we need to find new ways of solving our problems.