Thinking about public spaces and microtransactions.

These two things are not related.

But I'm still thinkin' about 'em at the same time.

1) We got no public spaces. They're mostly gone, usurped by commercial spaces.

2) Payment processors have rendered payments of less than roughly $1.50 worthless.

I'm going to discuss each of these things in thread form.

There's a park in front of my apartment complex, and it has a giant electronic billboard facing it, that plays video and audio 24 hours a day. It's a public space made commercial.

We treat coffee shops like public spaces, but they still close at 10pm, and give you dirty looks if you don't buy something.

Hell, three nights a week when it's cold out the lady and I will just go wander around various retail establishments so that we can get some walking in, and not be out in the wind and the rain.

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When I get together with friends, we mostly have to do it in someone's home, because our options are that or a bar or a coffee shop, because even commercial spaces that were at one time geared towards socialization and drawing a crowd have either disappeared or shifted their business model to one that places greater emphasis on consumption.

(Most arcades are gone, for example. Tabletop stores are moving towards a more event based model, where there is some kind of buy in for the evening.)

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I can't blame these retail establishments for doing these things. Money is tight, inflation eats it away. Wages increase at a rate bellow inflation, anyway. Our buying power is lower than it has ever been.

Of course businesses are struggling to keep up.

Of course traditional public spaces are being eroded by more value extraction.

There's so little to go around from all of us, and capitalism is a game with winners and losers.

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I never lived on a college campus, but I had lots of friends that did. I spent a large portion of my late teens and early 20s in the Public Spaces that college campuses provide. Every building, it seemed, had a huge ground floor with tables and electricity and wifi, and some of them also had free coffee.

I imagine that this is what it would be like if we made libraries more focused on being community spaces, gave them longer hours, and encouraged socialization or events in the evenings.

And my apartment complex has that kind of a lounge area. Many apartment complexes do.

But when I was hanging out on campuses, I would just walk in to a building, plop down, and start working.

I've never been to an apartment complex that didn't have access control on the doors to the building, the doors to the lobby, the internet connection, and the printer. You know?

Heck, at this place I have to swipe my dongle to get a cup of coffee.

It's almost a public space, but it isn't really.

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In my home town, they have a "community center" that is allegedly available for community events.

The sign says "community center"

If you call them, they answer the phone "Senior Center"

You can rent the building for events two nights a month, if you've already rented it before.

Every other night of the month, it's closed.

I'm not sure what even is the point.

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But even in other towns that have "community" centers, you're still looking at a pay out of a few hundred dollars to get an empty room and some chairs for the evening.

It'd work if you wanted to host an event, but it's not really what I would call a community center, in that it is by design not at the center of any communities.

Anyway, I don't really have a point here other than that our lack of public spaces is wearing us down as people and we should work to create new public spaces.

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So microtransactions.

Digital stuff costs nothing to copy other than power, bandwidth, and storage space. For most digital items those numbers are so small as to be actually negligible, you could charge a penny or a dime for access to an item and conceivably make a profit.

Except payment processors won't let you.

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Even If I wanted to charge a penny or a dime for access to a digital copy of a penny dreadful or a dime novel, it's not actually possible.

The best I can hope for is to charge $1 (of which I'll get to keep, what, 30 or 40 cents if it's paypal? While the buyer is still out a full dollar, and probably doesn't even realize that I only got 40% of it.)

A lot of cryptocurrency people point to cryptocurrency as the solution to this problem, but it comes with it's own barriers.

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In some ways I see this as another symptom of the same problem which has been eroding public spaces which is the reduction in the buying power afforded to the average individual.

We're being rendered more or less powerless thanks to the concentration of wealth.

To paraphrase Piketty, having money makes money faster than making money, which is really just a way of restating Marx's law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

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Wealth is concentrated in the center, people are concentrated at the edges.

Gatekeepers and landlords from the center are using their obscene wealth coupled with our decreased buying power to prevent us from supporting one another.

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That's the whole story. That's the full thought. We're being prevented from supporting one another by a lack of (access to?) public spaces and the transaction fees associated with a cashless society.

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@ajroach42 Some libraries are pushing for that! At least in theory, though I think many times they're more focused on community events/programs rather than pure spaces.

This stuff is also why I really want to bring back Community Centers.

@ajroach42 to be fair the main library in my town (a big 3 floor building) is about 70% there; other than the longer hours (there are issues with safety/security/licensing (zoning)) and the coffee isn't free

But last time I was in there (I had spare time before opticians appointment and needed to be in town) there were *two* separate groups of seniors; some were there just socialising, but a group were reading aloud some book/play in a corner (complete with regional accents) >>

@ajroach42 it sounded like they were from some local drama group, if I had more time and was less shy I would have investigated further (may still do that).

there are 3 floors to the building and I was only on the ground floor, younger people tend to use the computers/wifi on floor 2 (signal is better up there) but they are usually quieter and often reading books/studying for school/college (it was quite funny to be fair that the older people were making *more* noise in the library 😆 )

@ajroach42 With cash I can buy things anonymously. Sure they can see my face, but I don't have to provide my personal info-- name, address, credit card number, etc. just to buy a cup of coffee or something. To pay someone online I have to do that so it's a serious barrier.

@ajroach42 I am thinking about how to add to this conversation, but for now I just want to say that it's a problem I've been thinking about a lot. I live in the suburbs and I can't really think of a way to meet people without spending money or driving a car. There's no social space within walking distance.

@ajroach42 I wonder if you could provide a service where people load up an account and can use it like a debit card. Charge a small fee when loading to make upkeep possible, don't take transaction fees when transferring on the "buying stuff" end.

@ajroach42 This is going to end up with me looking into how to be a payment processor again, isn't it???

You still get dinged on both ends, but that's the closest thing to a solution I've seen.

It's how liberapay worked, basically. Reaching critical mass so that it actually makes sense is still a struggle, but this is probably the closest thing to a long term solution we could implement within the existing system.

@hummingrain @ajroach42 At the store I see big racks full of payment and gift cards for all kinds of stuff. You pay at the register to add money to them. You're talking about those kinds of cards, right? Are any of them used to buy stuff online--other than only at a specific vendor?

It would be a good solution. I wonder, what % fee would be required to cover the cost of providing the cards, processing the transactions, and overhead?

@leadore @ajroach42 I was thinking more like a paypal account, but your idea is actually way better! Mostly because holding people's money in an account gets messy fast, regulation-wise. Plus this way there'd be a cash-buy option.

I men, it's still "holding money" in the sense that they are buying fake digital currency and then using that fake digital currency to buy stuff.

You're holding the fake currency and providing the exchange rate on both sides.

This is how online games work, for example.

@ajroach42 @hummingrain
I was reading this article to educate myself a bit.
There are open loop and closed loop cards. We would need the more complicated open loop kind that involves a bank, processor, & manager (=fees).

The closed loop ones are brand cards and are handled by the business itself; there are no 3rd-party fees, only the cost of the physical cards.

I've read about there being underground economies that use these cards for anonymous transactions.


In some ways, that makes it preferable to operate under a "supporter/patron" model. Offer your digital material with no cost but ask for contributions.

I DO NOT KNOW if that is practical.


Monthly/annual subscription more practical?

More practical, but a bigger investment/comitement on each side.

From the buyer, it's not fifty cents for a thing, now it's $6 up front with the promise of 12 things.

From the seller it's not a transaction anymore, but instead a relationship. It's not "I made this thing, pay me for it?" It's "I made this thing, pay me for the next one."

It's the best we have right now, but it's not an actual solution.

@ajroach42 "nothing to copy other than power, bandwidth, and storage space" plus also sysadmin time and customer service had BETTER be included. And none of those are free or even cheap in bulk, and you can't "lose money on each transaction and make it up in volume", although I think that's the current standard practice online.

Contrariwise, I don't trust payment processors to tell us what their real costs are although I think it's possible that micropayments cost them real money.

@clew @ajroach42
For big platforms the trend is to downscale both of those as much as possible. Sysadmin time by ruthlessly optimizing and automizing everything (not necessarily a bad thing). Support time by just not offering any or at the very least making it as inaccessible as possible (leading to amongst other things the horrible moderation of Facebook).

If your scale is "practically everybody on the planet" the relative cost per sysadmin or support employee is also negligible.

@clew @ajroach42
I don't think that's a sustainable business model. I do think it's the Facebook model, or the Google model. The ratio of employed humans to free users has to be as low as possible otherwise there is no way of making a profit by offering free stuff.

@clew @ajroach42
I wonder if that ratio is useful for evaluating the "success" of a company like this.

According to the first page I found Facebook has 25,105 employees and 2.271 billion users. That gives us a ratio of 90,460 users per employee.

@clew @ajroach42
Sorry Andrew, this got quite far away from the topic of micro transactions...

All good. It's all the same conversation at the end of the day. Value extraction.

@kingannoy @ajroach42 Not a sustainable model, not good for users as a whole*, but making a few companies rich enough to nearly overwrite the rest of the 'net -- ouch.

* Can this be true even if each person on Fb or G is there because it improves their life at the margin? Probably although counterintuitive? Diffeq systems are like that.

As someone who has been both support and systems administration for platforms of various size, if there is enough traffic that you actually need a dedicated support or sysadmin team, there's should be enough revenue that the sysadmin and support cost per transaction is basically nil.

If not, you have bigger problems than systems administration or support.

If my sysadmin has to get involved every time someone visits my website, I should fire my sysadmin.

I've worked in systems administration and support at various companies for years, I don't discount the importance of those roles. But that's overhead in running a service, it's not part of each individual transaction.

@ajroach42 I feel like this is approaching a calculus problem? The cost of each user is very small but the cost in the aggregate is still large. Achilles beats the tortoise.

@ajroach42 You've just detailed why I don't live in the big city.
Cold, impersonal, horrible places with zero trust. Also, the aggressive driving habits with no manners at all.

@ajroach42 Really!? Um, without doxxing yourself, where-ish?

At various points, Metro Atlanta, northern GA, alabama, tennesee, and NC.

@ajroach42 Those are all pretty populous places (to me).
I live in, with ~12k ppl. The next biggest place is a 7 hour drive and has about 70k ppl. My kids couldn't believe how big it was! :-)

My town in North GA has a population of 2k people. The town we were in in Alabama has a population of 6k.

The other place in GA was pretty big, but still definitely a suburb.

It's just the American south, or the US in general.

We're not nearly as isolated as what you're describing, but you'd be hard pressed to find many places in the states that are.

@ajroach42 Fair.
Canada is the second largest country, but nearly empty of people.
My province is the area of approx. 1.5X that of your state of texas, but has a population of only ~4.5 mm and most of those live near the border in the south.
I'm thinking about your main point. Where could I go to hang out for free? The mall. Library. College (cafe and library anyhow). It's winter 6-7 mos of the year, so I exclude parks etc.

@ajroach42 I thought you were talking about cities, because of all the locks and checks and stuff.

Ah, no that's my apartment in DC, although it was also true of my apartments in GA.

But the rest of this is pretty applicable to all the places I've lived. There aren't enough public spaces in the US, and even the smallest towns feel the effects.

@ajroach42 Ja Ja! :-) When you say 'DC' I think first of:
It's a cheerful -16C there just now
So. Yeah, basically the same as here :-)
Risk of frostbite.

@ajroach42 I have an internet friend of over 15 years in the district of columbia and also a IRL (but mostly internet) friend in dawson creek (because it is such a long drive).

@ajroach42 I wonder, is it maybe something that's been around for a long time, and they've been unable to figure out how to keep running it on an ongoing, more "full time basis". I wonder if someone approached them and asked what it would take to have more active, like even to be able to be open 2 nights a week would be a *huge* improvement. But maybe there isn't interest? Though it sounds like you're interested...

It's a county building, tax supported.

It's not that they aren't open in the evenings, it's that they pre-book their own events every day of the month that they are allowed to, so that they can serve the portion of the community they are interested in serving without having to deal with the community at large.

@ajroach42 I wouldn't say that it's a *bad* thing, if they are pretty much fully booked, but if people aren't able to book *a* space, then I have a bit of a problem. Then again, a lot of spaces that *seem* to be public even around here, really aren't. Not sure if they are "treated as public" enough that people need to worry about them not being public.


I might not be explaining myself clearly. Sorry about that.

The community center is big. It has an event room that can host 500+ people, a full industrial kitchen, and two smaller rooms that can host 50+ each.

It also has a lounge area with TVs and some pool tables.

The center books "events" in one of these smaller rooms, or in the lounge. These events are often just 5 - 10 people in a sewing circle, or a knitting night or whatever.

That leaves two rooms free! But they won't rent the other rooms because they book the whole center for the 5 - 10 person events, so that they don't have to deal with The Youth.

@ajroach42 Well, that doesn't really sound like they are fufilling their mandate then. Whatever that is. A big space like that which ends up, "booked up" because one event is booked in, really doesn't make sense. Booking for a *private* event perhaps could lead to it being closed like that, but a public event, I would say no, and public events should take precedence. And by "public" I mean an event that is "open to the public" even if it's ticketed (like a concert) no matter who runs it.

@JigmeDatse Right.

This is what I'm saying.

At the same has proven to be true at the "community centers" I've seen in most small towns.

This might be an extreme case, but even where our house is now, access to county resources is Heavily gated, and almost entirely dependent on how the clerk responsible for that office is feeling that day.

This is not conducive to using community spaces for community events.

@ajroach42 I don't really know how things are here, I have either been involved with organizations which have the spaces, or have not even been close to the attempts to rent them out. I do know I would not be at all surprised to have this happen here.

I have walked from one end of town, putting up *small* posters, and by the time I walked back, posters had already been torn down. It was probably at *most* 20 minutes by the time I got back.

@JigmeDatse I worked with the local soccer association and the local community theater to get space at the center for signups and performances and it was like trying to push a boulder up a hill.

Our events would be actively sabotaged by staff. Our signs removed, attendants told that they couldn't use the parking lot on site.

One night, while we were performing our play, they actually just cut power to the whole room because we were "being too loud" and "bothering the sewing circle".

@JigmeDatse And we were *paying* for this space.

It's not a lot of money, don't get me wrong, but we had to Pay for the privilege of fighting to actually use the space that our tax money had already funded.

It was nepotism at its worst.

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