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With the Web, Who Needs Mediation?

Time was that couples with irreconcilable differences turned to divorce court. Then came divorce mediation, offering a kinder, gentler way to resolve disputes. But in this age of social networking and crowdsourcing, why trust your relationship problems to a judge or mediator when you can simply throw them out on the winds of the Web for all the world to weigh in on. That is the idea behind SideTaker.com, a Web site that advises quarreling couples, "Let the world decide who's at fault."

SideTaker almost resembles some online mediation sites -- if you take away any hint of redeeming social value. One half of a disputing couple anonymously posts his or her side of the story and then e-mails the other half an invitation to post the other side. The world at large is then encouraged to read each person's story and vote on who is at fault, as well as to provide "advice or some constructive criticism." Thus we find the item, "She Destroyed Me After 3 Years Together," in which a guy wonders why his married, unemployed girlfriend dumped him when he prank called her pretending to be a recruiter and quizzed her on her sex life. The collective counsel of the Web ranges from "there's something else going on here" to "dude, she definitely has issues with you."

Voting on each dispute continues for 60 days. With the site having launched just last week, that means no disputes have been "decided" as of yet. But more fights keep coming in, over toilet flushing, money woes, suspicions of cheating and the demise of chivalry. The site's founders appear to see SideTaker as serving a legitimate purpose in helping to keep couples from breaking up.

Some are just, but far too many divorces, break ups, and separations happen over non-critical disputes. Over 50% of American marriages end in divorce. In a fight, each person has their side and are usually backed by their friends (on either side). When you can create a jury of anonymous peers to decide who is right or wrong in an argument, then the bias is gone and the person at fault will just have to suck it up.

The problem, of course, is that while there are two sides (at least) to every story, rarely is either the "truth." Mediation works not by telling one party or the other to "suck it up," but by helping both parties find common ground. Still, Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch believes SideTaker will find an audience, just as "shows like Jerry Springer and Judge Judy have thrived on this sort of thing for years." In fact, he even manages to see some redeeming value here as a form of dispute resolution. "Even if people ignore the comments of others, it's possible that they'll be more honest on paper than if they were speaking face to face." But Diane Levin of MediationChannel.com sees it much differently than Kincaid. "If you seek proof of civilization's decline, look no further than SideTaker," she writes. Hmmm, who is correct here, Kincaid or Levin? Come on readers, tell us which side you're on!

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 8, 2008 at 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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