World Wide Wapner: Is “The People’s Court” for the Facebook Generation

Launching today, JabberJury’s like Court TV, Hot or Not, YouTube and your favorite social media site all rolled into one easy way to make your case and settle it with a crowd.

World Wide Wapner: Is “The People’s Court” for the Facebook Generation


What guy hasn’t wanted to defend a bad call on his favorite sports team- or from his significant other? Or a teenager who’d love to make
a case for staying out late with a crush? Enter, a site where settling all manner of debates is only a click away.

Though it’s coming out of beta today, JabberJury’s been
quietly gathering steam since its genesis in 2009. That’s when co-founders, Chicago-based
entrepreneurs Kevin Wielgus and Angelo Rago, walked into a bar and found
a way to solve an argument between Rago and his girlfriend. Rago had been receiving
a raft of pissy text messages from his girlfriend after he declined to go with
her to visit her father in the hospital (he lent her his truck instead).

It started with a fight about hemorrhoids

Rago knew he was right–her dad had hemorrhoids and not
some fatal disease–but she was busy trashing him. So the two friends invited
bar patrons to weigh in on the dispute and the idea for JabberJury took hold.
Wielgus tells Fast Company they aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. “We try to
take what’s been implemented and received well by the public,” he explains. In
doing so they’ve mined voting concepts from such successful polling sites as
Hot or Not and Awkward Family Photo, mashed them up with a voyeuristic dose of Court
TV, and added a point system and charitable giving component for good measure.

After bootstrapping the emerging business for about a year,
Rago and Wielgus received a $120,000 cash infusion from family. Shortly
thereafter, Lightwater, LLC came in with $1.2 million in funding.


Evolved into a quasi-online game

Along the way, Wielgus says the site’s evolved and added
features as he and Rago finessed their revenue model. Right now users can post
their own cases via video uploads or they can vote on other cases. Taking a page
from the Mafia Wars and FarmVille playbooks, members earn virtual currency called
Jabbies, for joining, recruiting jurors, posting, voting and interacting with
sponsors. Jabbies can then be redeemed for gift cards, travel, or swag from
JabberJury’s marketing sponsors. “If a dispute’s settled in your favor, you can go out for a make-up dinner,” he suggests.

Added charitable donations

Wielgus added charitable contributions to the mix, too. Five national nonprofits
will be announced soon and users can convert every 2,000 Jabbies earned to $1
cash. “With online gaming, we saw so many accumulating points to
earn a status level, so we thought if people are willing to get points for
nothing, why not get for something and redeem them for charity. We call it ‘a
cause to fight for,’” Wielgus explains.

And a value proposition for advertisers

That’s not dissimilar to the way he and Rago built their
revenue model. In addition to offering targeted demographics from users who provide
personal information, Wielgus sees it growing into a complete marketing service.
“We are providing advertisers with a community who looks at choices and provides
opinion. Why not be able to see what the popular vote is on developing a brand
or an ad?” He says JabberJury could drill down to specific subsets of users. “Companies
[usually get that] through market research firms, but we’ll have a bunch of
people happy to give their opinions.”


As for user privacy, Wielgus is quick to note that
JabberJury’s not selling anyone’s name or personal information to its partners.
And users are encouraged to use privacy settings much the way they would on
Facebook. “You can choose who sees your profile and you can search for others,”
says Wielgus, “We are encouraging the same good judgment with their testimony
as if they were in court and put on the stand.”

But it’s still fun

Though it’s clearly a vehicle for business, Wielgus doesn’t
ignore JabberJury’s sheer potential for fun. “This time next year I’d love the
site to be associated with entertainment conflict resolution and as source for
good information and conversation starters,” he admits. It wouldn’t hurt if
JabberJury became part of the mainstream media as a resource for collective opinions,
too. But says Wielgus, airing grievances has the potential to make the world a
better place.

“JabberJury’s not only entertaining and rewarding, it has a
redeeming quality. In our ‘case of the day’ we’ve received a lot of feedback that
this forum lets people get stuff on the table that they would have just stewed
over.” So the next time you’ve got an argument on your hands, don’t get mad.
Get an opinion (or a hundred) and settle it right online.

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.