Forum OpenACS Q&A: cyber cafe management module

Posted by Alan Pater on
How could one impliment a system such as using ACS?
Posted by Li-fan Chen on

Cons: The internet kiosk and cyber cafe industry hasn't faced a lot of success and growth in the last decade according to industry reports.

Wants: The hardware and shop arrangements begs to be distributed in a reliable system similar to the StarBucks franchaise: 1. Same software; 2. Same people who wash the shoppie's clothings; 3. Everything you would want automated and replicated in a franchaise. Etc Etc.

Full-blown: I guess the first thing to making a ACS based Cybercafe module work and work well is to have some ACS-friendly development company champion that module and build an entire Cybercafe business around it. You would want this company to have a factory building durable and cheap cabinets for Internet consoles and the payment stations. You would want this company to have a system of assigning employee work schedules, coffee and mug orders. Etc etc. Why is this necessary? Because ACS is much too large a system to install just for the Cybercafe module. The ACS programming and administration overhead alone would kill you if you just want to send out a few stand-alone stations through out a shopping mall. Without ACS, you still have to do the following:

  • Billing Station programming.. it's basically a POS and Firewall together.
    • The Firewall figures out which Internet console is spending time.. and bills the account being spent by the person sitting at the Internet console. The firewall has a way of billing you for certain sections of the web (Everywhere); blocking certain sections of the web (The pr0n); and giving you free access to certain sections of the web (The How to Use the Internet Console pages for example). It may have to cooperate with some helper programs running on not only Linux but Windows and Macs to help your system learn how NOT to charge people $2 just because they are a slow typer in These helper programs also talks to the POS system to help the POS system figure out if you are authorized (user/password) to spend time stored in a certain account.
    • The firewall/router also needs a group of nice admin-only CGIs to access setup procedures.
    • The billing station could do IP-based billing.. so it's probably just a bunch of Perl scripts accessing a few more helper perl scripts.. which makes the final IP call to a centralized Oracle database... which could bundle all the payment systems together into one central point.. so you don't need a VISA Vendor account for EACH AND EVERY remote cluster of your kiosks.
    • The billing station would have C or Java programs with JNI wrappers and drivers to talk Parallel and Serial to Coin and Bill validation devices. That way people could take money. These programs run as their own daemon.. and uses IPC (named pipes) to talk to the loosely-coupled remote database (caching some billing information mirrored from the central Oracle database) stored in the Router to credit people's accounts. The payment station also needs a ridiculously easy to use payment GUI.
    • The billing system also needs to talk to the central database so that your clerks knows when to go in and empty out the coins and bills overflowing in the payment station.

This is all a lot of work and a lot of time. Your credit-validation machines will likely come from Las Vegas. If you build the payment stations yourself you need spares. The credit card validation bureau is a lot of pain for just a few kiosks and a few bucks. So if you do this -- makes sure your business scales -- ensure that you'll be selling millions of dollars of these installations to interested Kiosk-owners. Or it won't be worth it.

Posted by Radam Batnag on

On my previous company, we just finished building a system just like this using OpenACS. We used prepaid cards for the billing system.

What you need:

  1. A prepaid card management system for generating card numbers
  2. A billing system for tracking how much money is left on which card.
  3. A program running on the workstations (we used Windows98) to lock up the workstation if no one is logged in, or if the current user has run out of money.

Item #1 was outsourced; we used OpenACS on #2, and VB6 on #3.

For the billing system, we used ad_schedule_proc to update account balances, and Linux shell scripts to restrict the IP packets of workstations that aren't in use. It's not a very big module, about 200+ lines for the data model and 500+ lines for the Tcl pages.

By this time, the system should have been deployed in several dozen cybercafes all over the Philippines.

You can contact my former employer at, and you can probably contact my former team through (we also developed this static site).

Posted by Alan Pater on
A few comments:

Here in guatemala, cyber-cafes are quite popular, as computers cost many months income, and you pay by the minute for a connection through a phone-line. Maybe when computers cost the same as a getto-blaster (well, that's already happening, but it's because some ghetto-blasters cost as much as a computer!), and every valley is flooded with wireless Internet signals, things will change here, and the only market will be travelers, but for now, it still works.

I don't envision us using a prepaid card system, as we aren't running remote kiosks, but an Internet center with staff and a front desk. so what should happen is that the client walks in, buys a ticket with a generated login id from the front desk, goes to any computer, enters the login and a new password, and away they go. When their time starts to run out, they can purchase more on the same login, or allow it to run out. if they leave before their time is used up, they can come back another day to use the rest. I like the idea of adjusting the time for the resources a given client uses, people who use the computer for a tv or telephone get the minimum time, people who just read text sites get a bit more time. uses a central server located in the usa for everything, so it doesn't serve our needs, however, all the clients are html based, which is great, and the way their site describes the process sounds right as well.

Radamanthus, I emailed your people at, but haven't had any response. Do you know if they are willing to release their acs module to the rest of us?

Posted by Don Baccus on
cyber cafes are also quite popular in Costa Rica.  I imagine this is
true throughout Central America.
Posted by Li-fan Chen on

Cyber cafes are oddly popular in Taipei, Taoyuan, and Kao Shun, three major cities in Taiwan I have recently visited. I really don't know why but all they do in these air-conditioned internet cafes is play lan games (of the RPG and first-person perspective hunt and kill sort).

Why don't they play their home boxes? Some people point to the lack of massive convertion to Cable modem (so you hog the phone line with your 1-on-1 game).. and the standard use of 17"+ screens on all lan stations.. or maybe few families install a LAN at home (required for lan games).. it's also really hot in South eastern asia, so kids are always dying to get out of the house. Payment is frequently through cash (NT$30 is approx equiv to USD$1) and the normal going rates with membership is USD$1-2.5 per hour.

There are a few random kiosks made with good-looking durable material at local Taiwanese firms, but the ergonomics of a metallic keyboard and no privacy just plain sucks, and they want your money just to surf the informational sites. No freebies. I still haven't seen much of those fully unattended cafe clusters in either shopping centers nor other popular public gathering places.

The pace of Taipei and Kao shun is so fast during business hours I am not sure the convenience of kiosks or cybercafes really appeal to adults. They are just a bold reminder that your boss really don't think that you own any of the precious few hours after 5:30pm--and a dozen PowerPoints are just waiting for you to edit over the net so why not just sit down and work some more?

I guess cell phones just doesn't present the same sort of threat--people of all ages all have a dozen cell-phones at home or with them--much like Israel. The phone calls are about NT$6 per minute. SMS messages are about NT$4.5-6 each.

Posted by good bye on
This might not be of any use, but Easy Everything seems to be very popular in Amsterdam. It is like the Starbucks of internet cafes: clean, generic, and standardized. That said, I thought it was pretty
cool. They bill in the same manner Alan mentioned, but instead of charging extra for using voice and video services, they charge extra
during peak periods. In other words, you buy a ticket for a certain amount of time, but when the place is busy, your time runs out faster.

When I was in the Netherlands (last July), it looked like the infrastructure they were using was some type of VB on the terminals with a central NT server.

Check them out at

Posted by Alan Pater on
Actually, I was in Amsterdam last summer, and spend some time in the Easy Everthing there, which feed the idea in the first place. We are not doing anything at that level, 600 machines, all with lcd monitors, open 24 hours a day, and as Rolf said, the system automagicaly adjusts your time depending on the time of day.
Posted by tim button on
I bought a product from a company called weavefuture, it can
turn cyber cafe into coin operated cyber cafe which saved lots
of cost