How Square Changes Everything

[Part 1 of 5 on technology and philanthropy in the coming year. Over the next 5 days I'll be thinking out loud about the year ahead in technology and philanthropy. These short pieces will help me write the technology section of my annual industry forecast, Blueprint 2013, which will be available December 1. Please comment or suggest additions/corrections  as what I learn here will inform the book. Thanks.]





My favorite cafe is in a laundromat. The owner is a self-described luddite except for the technology that goes into a fantastic espresso shot. About a year ago she became one of the first merchants I interacted with who was using Square. I sat in the cafe one day chatting with her when another customer came in - turns out he works for Square. He explained the pricing to me. He handed me a Square. He told me how I'd be able to pay by just walking into the cafe and saying hello. As he told me more the cafe owner interrupted. "It's easy, cheap, and cool," she said. That's when I knew it was something to watch. I walked home and let my kid set up the app on my iPad. He looked at me. "Cool. Now what do you want to sell?" In the course of 15 minutes I'd gone from coffee customer to potential merchant.

Square is part of a larger mobile payment trend. There are services from Verizon, Google, PayPal, and others. You may not have used your phone to pay for something yet but you will soon (Square just signed a deal with Starbucks.)

Square will change philanthropy. It's cheap. It's designed for the individual and it benefits merchants (it is much cheaper than regular credit card merchant accounts). It makes it easy to sell things, to track data on what you've sold, and to get better at what you're doing.

Square makes giving easier between and among individuals - which has implications beyond fundraising for how we make change happen. Square lets you track your charitable giving and political giving right next to the rest of your expenses. We'll get better at seeing our giving in relation to our overall budgets - and financial companies and budgeting software providers will help us take this further. It will lead to giving accounts at banks, add-ons and rounding up from merchants, embedded giving everywhere, matching gifts apps, and "I give, you give" behavior on social networks and in crowdfunding systems. It will accelerate the ability of people to motivate and fund crowds, of crowds to do things, and of networks to step in where once institutions reigned. It's cool, it's fun, it makes life easier and a little bit less expensive.

Mobile phone payment systems writ large will change how money and data are linked, although   this may take awhile because of equipment requirements and deals among telecomms. But Square doesn't require people to buy new phones, it doesn't cost anything to set up, and it fits in easily with whatever you're already doing AND let's you do more, I think it will be slide right on in and become a basis for all kinds of new behaviors. Philanthropy and sharing are basic human motivations - the simplest technologies are the ones that are easily and broadly adapted and that can form the base for the greatest change.

Because Square is designed with people in mind, not just institutions, I think it has the best chance to propel change in philanthropy. It changes the most basic step, money transfer, in lightweight, easy, inexpensive and "cool" ways - innovation will happen on top of it as our behaviors change because of it. Just as web 2.0 made us all into content consumers and producers, I think Square will accelerate how we each donate to and do good. It's a subtle but important shift in perspective and I think long tail giving will change because of it. I'm not an employee, investor, or paid promoter of Square, I'm just a philanthropy wonk. And I think that what we'll see with Sqaure over the next year are the earliest outlines of what much of doing and giving will look like a decade from now.

[Please join me in discussion about this post and the rest of the series over at Branch] -

UPDATE September 10, 10:48 am - here's the branch conversation that's now happening 


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