To pry money out of people online, you don't necessarily need to craft an emotional Kickstarter campaign or plead for them to donate to your Patreon. Sometimes, all you need to shake down a decent number of folks is a well-placed curiosity gap.
"How Many People Paid A Dollar To See How Many People Paid A Dollar?," a website created this spring by software developer Johan McCubbin, is very good at taking money using nothing but the aforementioned question and a PayPal link. That's all it is: You give your dollar, and in return, you find out how many other schmucks also forked over a buck.
"There's so many stupidly simple ideas out there that could potentially be lucrative," McCubbin told me in an email. He was inspired by the "Million Dollar Homepage" from 2005, which sold space for one dollar per pixel. "I find the concept of 'selling nothing for something' really interesting."
He said he was hoping to just break even on the domain name and hosting fees, but the results have been much better than he expected.
"Sometimes it's quiet with no payments for a week or so, and then it gets shared somewhere on social media and goes boom!" Occasionally, someone will write to him and ask for a refund, which he'll give if there was a processing error or some similar glitch. "Otherwise, you get what you paid for and you paid for what was advertised," he said.
Trying this myself, I encountered an odd loop—for every dollar I gave, it asked for another. I gave this website three of my own hard-earned dollars before asking McCubbin, "Am I doing something wrong, or am I part of the experiment?" He tells me it's not meant to loop, and when another Motherboarder tested it, it worked as promised, revealing the number of people who'd given a dollar. I won't tell you the number so as not to spoil the experience, but it is more than anyone has any right to make off of a website running one line of text and a PayPal link.
I'll never get those three dollars, or my dignity, back again.