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The primary challenge with online dispute resolution is that the online world does not perfectly mirror the real world. Mediation is typically most effective if the parties of the dispute are physically present with the mediator, yet with online dispute resolution there is a level of impersonality that interferes with the mediation process ("The pros," 2003).
Although there are benefits to the asynchronous nature of e-mail, mediation is sometimes more difficult due to this factor. Negotiations are often facilitated by the parties being able to freely communicate with one another. The delay between responses can cause frustration for both parties and negatively affect the process. Much of the dynamics of face-to-face mediation are lost as well ("The pros," 2003). The emotional aspect is a concern in online dispute resolution as well.
Emotions are an integral part of many mediations. With online dispute resolution these emotions can get lost or can get misconstrued. Online communications lake the variable pitch, tone and volume that comes with face-to-face verbal communication that are so often important in determining the feelings behind a communication. E-mail communications cannot transmit personality or physical cues. They lack the facial expressions that go with feelings, and are not as rich and meaningful as face-to-face communications. For this reason, it's often more difficult to evaluate how flexible the parties are with their negotiation or how strong the party feels about a particular concern ("The pros," 2003). What can be worse is feelings being misconstrued through the written communication of e-mail. Without the nuances of voice inflection and body language, a party can misread the tone of an e-mail and have it negatively impact their understanding (Gillieron, 2008).
The mediator themselves are at a disadvantage with online dispute resolution, as opposed to face-to-face mediation. E-mail communication does not allow the mediator to as effectively use seriousness, professionalism, occasional humor, and charisma to guide the mediation process and facilitate negotiation. They are not able to use their physical self to set the parties at ease. Also, like the parties involved in the dispute, they too are at a disadvantage when trying to discern the emotion behind e-mails. They also are without the intuitive cues of facial expression, verbal tone and body language, that are present with face-to-face mediation ("The pros," 2003).
In addition to the lack of verbal cues, there is the challenge of accessibility that comes with online dispute resolution. Although the Internet has become increasingly popular, over the last decade, there are still many individuals who do not have Internet access, especially if the dispute is regarding an off-line transaction. Even those who can access the Internet occasionally through places, such as the public library, may have difficulty due to the duration of some online dispute resolution processes, which may take anywhere from a few hours to weeks. There is also the disadvantage for those who are not as familiar with computers and the Internet as some, and this may relate to a disadvantage in the negotiation process of the dispute resolution. Lastly, there is the cost involved in online dispute resolution services.
Although, as noted earlier, online dispute resolution services are much more cost effective than litigation, there are those who may still be unable to pay the fees necessary. The sums of money involved in e-commerce transactions may also be so small that the fees for mediation make it financial unfeasible. As an example, SettlementOnline charges $300 for each settlement it reaches. CyberSettle charges $100 for amounts under $5,000 ("The pros," 2003). With fees this high, it may be ineffective to proceed with online dispute resolution.
As the Internet and online communications become increasingly popular, the use of online dispute resolution is likely to continue. There are a variety of similarities between the traditional face-to-face mediation process and todays cyber mediation process of online dispute resolution. Both often employ a neutral third party, both look to facilitate communication between the interested parties, and both aim to come up with a solution that is agreeable to both parties. However, other than the physical proximity of the parties, online dispute resolution often sees the mediator becoming the decider of the case, should an agreement not be able to be reached. Although there are advantages to the online dispute process, which has led to its increasing success, there are challenges as well. The subtle nuances of face-to-face communication are lost in the online dispute process. The impersonality of the process has a negative effect on both the parties involved as well as the mediator. Although the process is less expensive than litigation, the charges for online dispute services are often too high for the small sums of money in question in many e-transactions. For this reason, there is still much work that needs to be done to perfect the use of online interaction for mediation.
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