The surge of attention to bitcoin has recently brought to limelight the tech revolution which has been underway for some time now. The progress and growth of technology has given the revolution an access into the domain of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). There is now online mediation, online arbitration, as well as arbitration utilizing the same blockchain technology as cryptocurrencies: Blockchain Arbitration. These forms of ADR, known as “Online dispute resolution” are increasingly and recently announcing their presence.

Primarily, dispute resolution techniques range from methods where parties have full control of the procedure to methods where a third party is in control of both the process and the outcome. These primary methods of resolving disputes may be complemented with Information and Communication Technology ( ICT) . Hence, a branch of dispute resolution where technology is used to facilitate  the resolution of disputes between parties is referred to as Online dispute resolution (ODR).
ODR was born from the intercourse between ADR and ICT, as a medium for resolving disputes arising online, for which traditional means of dispute resolution has been inefficient or unavailable. While the application of ODR is not limited to disputes arising in the course of online transactions, it seems to be particularly best for such disputes since it is logical to use the same medium (the internet) for the resolution of e – commerce disputes when parties are frequently located far from one another.

Surprisingly, Online dispute resolution (ODR) has been around for more than twenty years.  Described as “a wide class of alternative dispute resolution processes that take advantage of the availability and increasing development of internet technology”, this digital technology emerged in the United States in the 1990’s in tandem with the enlargement of e-commerce.

The first players in the field were some of the big online retailers that most of us are very familiar with now, (eBay and Paypal are the best examples) and this was upon the realization of the need for a means of resolving disputes which involved small amount of money between parties who were separated by great distances.

Notwithstanding the provision for only written submissions by almost all ODR processes, there is a broad spectrum of ODR services that range from Online Arbitration to fully automated online ‘blind-bidding’ Negotiation services (designed to determine economic settlements for claims in which liability is not challenged) and chat-based mediation programs. The selection of the appropriate ODR format may depend on the nature of the dispute and the parties involved. The process should also be convenient for the users and not cause any concern of undue accessibility.

 Disputes within the ODR framework are categorized into three main types:

•  Business to Business (B2B)

Such disputes herein classified revolve around two commercial parties who seek to resolve a   dispute over a specific transaction. The parties in B2B tend to be more sophisticated users and this reduces concern over the vulnerability of parties involved in a dispute and places greater emphasis on the convenience and expertise of the process.

 Business to Consumer (B2C)

B2C disputes tend to be low-cost but high-volume and may involve unequal bargaining power between the consumer and the business. An ODR process may meet consumers’ need for redress against businesses and to provide necessary support for due process rights.

•  Consumer to Consumer (C2C)

Such disputes involve transactions between two consumers and are also becoming more common with websites such as eBay acting as a facilitator between two parties, although the website is not an actual party to the dispute.
Furthermore, Online Dispute Resolution is characterised by its voluntariness as it avails parties the choice of participation in ODR or any other forum and also ensures that parties are at liberty to withdraw from the process at any given time.
ODR proceedings are also generally more relaxed and information than in-person proceedings such as mediation,litigation or arbitration and the process may be conducted in an asynchronous manner (having many actions occurring at a time,in no particular order).  Also,such proceedings are highly confidential except where the discretion of the parties involved dictates otherwise, and they are assisted by the aid of a neutral and impartial third party.

It is important to note that as successful as the ODR process has been for big online retailers, the road to a successful online dispute resolution was quote rocky at first.  Computer- mediated disputes were conceived to dehumanize communication and create a shortcut to problem solving that was only for the wealthy, however, its tools are not tied to geography or jurisdiction and this has spurred its ability to improve access to justice. It provides speedier and better outcomes, and maintains a high degree of relevance with its customers. ODR doesn’t require too much computer literacy, any dispute can be resolved in four simple steps,with a final resolution issued in 90 days.

Following the lead of the ODR platforms that are necessary according to protocol in European online trading, and the platforms that are already performing dispute resolution functions in several states in the U.S, it is easy to forsee the time when there won’t be an alternative to Online dispute resolution for a broad array of disputes and we will be able to explore various methods of dispute resolution. As it appears, we are not there yet, nevertheless we can expect that ODR will, sooner or later, become the new normal.


Emmanuel Adebanjo,

Content Provider, Legal Pages, Africa.