Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Online experiments in money and morals

I was really interested in the @jonathanscard experiment. Jonathan Stark started this as an experiment that allowed strangers to share cups of coffee via a single Starbucks card. I wrote about it here.

Well, it's come to an end. Starbucks shut it down, citing fear of fraud. Apparently, Sam Odio wrote a computer script that could read the card and take the money off of it. His plan? Use the money from Jonathan's Card to load onto other Starbucks cards. Auction those cards on eBay. Donate proceeds to SaveTheChildren. While he was taking money off the card (a total of $625) his brother was reloading it (with $625)

Here's what Sam Odio said about what he was doing - which was all in the interest of experiments about money online (as was Jonathan's original effort).

What a story. Who is the good guy and who is the bad guy? Did Sam steal from Jonathan? Was Jonathan's experiment successful? Was Sam's? Did eBay do the right thing in shutting down the auction? Did Starbucks rain on everyone's parade by shutting off the card? Was the whole thing scripted by Starbucks to begin with? Do Jonathan and Sam exist?

Will money ever be the same? Is giving people money for free coffee "better" or "worse" than giving people money to donate to charity? Does money exist?

While the experiment was underway there were some really interesting ideas and discussions about this kind of virtual sharing and its applications in the nonprofit world. Folks were talking about sharing museum entrance passes, ways to donate art supplies through frequent buyer cards, and other examples of giving things to strangers. Giving does not, of course, require any of the technology involved in the Jonathans Card experiment. Technology also doesn't change the observation I read about the whole experiment - "there are more nice people than jerks." But the technologies involved in this - frequent buyer cards, universal bar codes, mobile phones, twitter, blogs, television, news websites - all made it an experiment that moved fast, got known about quickly, and created its own energy which in turn invited in new variables (Sam). Fascinating.

Too many questions. These are just my first thoughts. Will think more after another cup of coffee.

Read about it on Mashable, on JonathansCard, on Sam Odio's site or on the Consumerist. You can also read the story as it unfolded on twitter by checking @Jonathanscard and @sodio.

1 comment:

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