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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

@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.

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