Tractis, which recently came out of private beta, allows you to negotiate and execute worldwide legally binding contracts online. Tractis’ focus is making e-commerce more safe by providing not only digital signing of contracts, but conflict resolution and micro-insurance services. Today, they officially open their doors for Spain and plan to eventually make their service available worldwide. Tractis is useful for all types of contracts, whether you’re selling an item on eBay, providing creative services over the Internet, or sending a non-disclosure agreement. It allows anyone to easily organize, collaborate, and sign contracts online, all in one place. Digital signing of contracts is a very interesting space with only a handful of companies in it. EchoSign is one company offering the digital signing of documents online which I have used numerous times with excellent results. DocuSign is another company which recently received $12.4 million in funding for its electronic signature service.
Aside from signing contracts, Tractis also provides a database of contract templates which anyone can save to their account and use for free. Right now you’ll find non-disclosure agreements, design service agreements, and contracts for the selling of goods. (Goodbye lawyers!) But where do these contacts come from? The answer is other Tractis users. In your account, you can create contract templates and make them publicly available for others to use. This is a great idea and I definitely see the value in it, however, I can’t help but feel uneasy knowing they are from users that are likely not lawyers. (Lawyers, come back!) On the plus side, templates are open for all to edit, rate, and comment on. Also, Tractis plans to roll out a reputation system in the next few months that would allow users to rank other Tractis users, according to Business 2.0 Magazine.
Additionally, Tractis is a collaborative environment for your contracts. Invite your whole team and the people you are sending contacts to. Start a contract from scratch or from a template, make changes, revert to older versions, and add comments. When you’re done preparing the contract, invite your client to review and digitally sign. If the client isn’t in agreement, you can discuss and edit the contract right then and there with them. One thing to keep in mind is the person signing the contract will need a Tractis account. This is said to be for identity protection reasons, but I’d personally prefer sending a contract to anyone, whether they have an account or not. Also, as of now, each digital signature will cost you 1 Euro, so be sure to increase your balance before sending off a contract to a client.
Working with Tractis is much like typing a document in a web-based word processor, or a contract focused Writeboard with basic contact management. You create and edit contracts in a WYSIWYG editor, invite users to collaborate, and eventually save for signing. And this works great, except my biggest complaint is that you cannot upload existing contracts that you might have, something that EchoSign does very well. Tractis also lets you create groups of people, find new people on Tractis, download vCards, and add people to your team. And what would a collaborative application be without being able to customize your interface to match your company? Nothing too fancy – you can change colors and replace the Tractis logo with your company logo.
As I brought up earlier, Tractis also allows you to create templates which can be used to start off new contracts. You can browse the public database of templates, edit as needed, and add them to your account for easy access. Very helpful, but they are no more than basic documents of legal agreement containing filler spaces and strings like “(Your Company Name).” They work fairly well, but one slight annoyance is having to replace thirty or so “(Your Company Name)” tags in a template by hand. The templates would be much more useful if there was a way to somehow mass replace a string with a new value, or perhaps create a custom markup or generate a form that fills in the information for you. Either way, the templates do save a lot of time, not to mention possible lawyer fees.
Signing a contract with Tractis is a bit more involved than using a service like EchoSign, but Tractis has decided to take extra measures to verify the identity of a signer. When signing a contract with Tractis, you are to provide a digital certificate. Now, to be honest, I don’t expect the average person to have a digital certificate, let alone know what one is. So, for those of you who don’t know what a digital certificate is, it’s an electronic document issued by a certificate authority that basically contains some data proving you are who you say you are. As of now, Tractis is only accepting digital certificates issued by a group of pre-selected Spanish certificate authorities, but plan to connect with more authorities wordwide as they go. (Current accepted authorities – translated by Google) Because of these measures, Tractis can confirm the identity of you and the signer and offer their planned services of micro-insurance and dispute resolution. (Certainly a huge task) Once you’ve got a certificate, you’re set to continue to the next hurdle of having Java 1.6 installed on your machine which allows Tractis to upload and verify your certificate. Sorry Mac users, you can’t sign because Mac’s latest Java version is 1.42 – unfortunate, I know.
Once you get passed having a digital certificate and Java 1.6 on your machine, you can finally sign a contract. It’s all simple from here on and you just have to check the box stating that you agree and click sign. It verifies the form and submits your signature and lets contract participants know. I feel the whole process of signing a contract may be a bit much for the average person, but it certainly does add a sense of trust and security to the signing, which is exactly what Tractis was aiming to do in making e-commerce more safe. Although, I’m not sure I’d want a client of mine to go through all of that. Fortunately, I’ve been told that there are plans for additional methods of authentication and signing, including “Accept/Clickwrap” agreements, but will strongly recommend the use of digital certificates.
Even though Tractis is out of private beta and officially launched for Spain today, they still have a ton of work ahead of them. I expect it will be a while until Tractis is available for U.S. users, but I definitely look forward to using Tractis when it becomes available. What I like most is the public database of templates and the ability to collaboratively edit a contract before making an agreement, features Tractis’ competitors do not have. I don’t necessarily trust the public templates just yet, but they are nice to have around as reference and to act as a starting point. I also found the signing process to be a bit much for my line of work (creative services), although my opinion on that would change if “Accept/Clickwrap” agreements are implemented. I just wouldn’t want to have my clients create an account on Tractis just to sign a contract and then have to deal with providing a digital certificate. I do, however, see the value in requiring digital certificates when handling large transactions, such as buying a car from a random user on eBay. In all, I feel Tractis is building an impressive service and I hope to use it when it’s ready worldwide. Until then, I’ll stick with EchoSign and the old-fashioned way of signing contracts (pen and paper).