Give a Coffee, Take a Coffee: a Starbucks Card Brings Sharing with Strangers into the Digital Age

Posted Aug 8, 2011

Programmer Jonathan Stark is running a Starbucks-based “experiment in social sharing of physical goods using digital currency on mobile phones” by releasing his Starbucks Card as a communal coffee payment method. As TechCrunch reports, people who need a coffee can charge their drink to Jonathan’s card, and people who are feeling generous can add money to the card’s balance. Caffeine fiends simply have to save the image he provides and then use it at any Starbucks with a POS barcode scanner. Stark is also running a bot on hisĀ @jonathanscard Twitter account to keep followers updated on how much money is on the card.

The card’s balance changes by the minute, but people seem to be gifting money into the account about as regularly as others are charging to it. Stark thanks people on Twitter when they mention that they reloaded the card, and a lot of the people using the card end up tweeting photos and thanks for their coffees. Discussion on the Twitter account has also led to the agreement that smaller reloads of the card will prevent its misuse, as at a few points in the experiment there have been deductions of $50 or more.

Stark’s adventure into this experiment is so selfless that he’s uncomfortable about the rewards points he’s racking up, tweeting that the points are “a bit of a concern actually. They’re sent via snail mail, have my name, and aren’t transferrable.” Stark gets a free drink coupon in the mail for every 15 coffee purchases, and his card has already been used in thousands of dollars worth of transactions since he started the experiment.

Stark’s experiment is completely unaffiliated with Starbucks.