NCTDR was founded in 1998 by University of Massachusetts professors of legal studies Ethan Katsh and Janet Rifkin with a grant from the Hewlett Foundation. Its focus at the time was on disputes arising out of online activities. It had already become clear that while the Net might be a highly active space, a creative space and, for some, a lucrative space, it would not be a harmonious space. Shortly after it was founded, the Center was asked by eBay to conduct a pilot project to see whether disputes between buyers and seller could be mediated online. Over 150 disputes were handled ina two week period, by far the largest number of disputes mediated online to that point. Ebay established ODR as a feature of its site and by 2010, it was handling over sixty million disputes each year.
Success in resolving disputes online led to efforts to use online resources to help resolve more traditional offline disputes. In 2003, the Center began working with the UMASS Department of Computer Science and the National Mediation Board to model mediation processes online and received the first of several National Science Foundation grants to support this collaboration. In 2008, the eBay Foundation provided assistance to the Center to help the Army provide online access to ombudsmen offices and to facilitate anonymous complaints relating to medical treatment.
ODR.info has been the main portal for the field of online dispute resolution since 2001.