Entrepreneur Marc Köhlbrugge has launched Expensive Chat, a web-based chat service where every character typed costs a penny. As spotted by Motherboard, Köhlbrugge announced the site in a tweet, calling it “a social experiment to see what happens to a chatroom when it’s not a free-for-all, but every message cost you cold, hard cash.” And where does all that cash go? Directly to Köhlbrugge.
The site shows a leaderboard, with those who have spent the most at the top, and then the chat room itself. There are a few friendly messages, but in the short time Expensive Chat has been operational, it’s become mostly littered with ads for companies and services. There’s a box at the bottom of the page if you want to compose your own message to post, and Expensive Chat takes Stripe, debit, and credit cards as payment.
There are various ways users are trying to game the site for visibility. Some have gone with the route of more is more in order for their name to appear at the top of the leaderboard. Others are more straightforward and give tiny quips about their services followed by a URL. One person discovered a workaround to get their message across that only costs a single penny:
Köhlbrugge frames the site as a social experiment, and it could be looked at through that lens (one Twitter response dryly notes, “The rich and powerful get to buy speech as always”). Public chat rooms can quickly turn into overwhelming and chaotic spaces, so it’s interesting to see how people’s decisions change when every letter is tallied to a bill. Behavioral commentary aside, Köhlbrugge tells Motherboard the real reason he started it was simpler. It seemed like a “fun way to make some extra money.”
Köhlbrugge thinks it could now be developed further into a more concrete product where public figures can have paid chats and choose where to direct those funds. “E.g. chat with kanye west, $10 per message. money goes to his charity,” he tells Motherboard. And for anyone who doubts that people would pay per character to send messages on some random website, Köhlbrugge has pocketed about $150 in the few days Expensive Chat has been live.