Online Chat Tool Charges a Penny Per Character

John Lister's picture

A new online chat service costs one cent for every character in a message. It appears to be both a business idea and a social experiment.

The site has the straightforward name called "Expensive Chat," and has the equally to-the-point description of "Spend money to chat with strangers who spend money to chat with strangers."

Users can register to pay with their bank card or through third-party payment site "Stripe." Once they are setup, every time they write a message, they'll see a reminder of the price based on its length. They'll have to confirm the message and their willingness to pay before it appears. (Source:

At the time of writing, it's safe to say the set-up wasn't producing premium quality conversation. The vast majority of the messages were promotional material - or to put it less generously, spam. A handful were questions or comments about the concept of the site itself, while a few people took advantage of the pricing structure to converse in emojis at one cent each.

Not A Major Money Maker

The creator, Marc Köhlbrugge, says it's partly an experiment to see what difference the payment system makes and partly a long-shot at making money. At the time of writing, users had spent just under $400 in total, out of which Köhlbrugge must pay any running costs. (Source:

The technology could also be adapted for other purposes such as a celebrity running a live chat for charity where users could pay for each question they asked.

It's not the first such experiment Köhlbrugge's run online. He also started a site which was nothing but a top ten "leader board" where whoever paid the most money to the site would take the top spot. That experiment established the maximum price people were prepared to fritter away online, with $222 the current price to beat.

Micropayments Could Fight Spam

In theory "Expensive Chat" could produce some interesting conclusions about how people's communication would change with a per-character charge. For example, users might switch to running words together to miss out spaces or adopt telegram-style writing which cuts out unnecessary words. They might also be more thoughtful about which comments were worth posting.

In practice it's not an effective experiment as anyone who'd try to find a way to save money on posting a message is almost certainly not going to bother using the site in the first place.

The concept isn't completely unheard of online, however. Several people have proposed that email services could charge a tiny amount - perhaps even a hundredth of a cent - to send an email. The idea is that the price would be low enough to make no real impact of ordinary users, but that spammers who send millions of messages would find the tiny payments added up to enough to make their operation financially unviable.

What's Your Opinion?

How do you think your online activity would change if major services such as email and messaging had a per-message charge? Would it make any difference if the price was per character rather than per message? Do you think the idea of a minute charge for emails would indeed deter spammers?

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Dennis Faas's picture

My thoughts on this are three-fold:

1. Charging a penny per character is insane and people will go elsewhere (without charge) if they are serious about wanting to chat with complete strangers. There are already services available online that offer this.

2. Charging a fee for email has been proposed in the past and simply will not work for the same reason as I mentioned in #1. It would also kill websites like this that have a mailing list and rely on traffic generated from its mailings to keep things active.

3. Above all else, spammers will simply move onto the next greatest idea. If you kill off free email, users will adopt another service as a replacement and spammers will simply follow the trail.