Jonathan’s Card: An Experiment In Digital Currency And Mobile Payments

Jonathan’s Card: An Experiment In Digital Currency And Mobile Payments

Will Stark's experiment demonstrate that mobile photos are another form of digital currency - and that photos can in essence be transactional?

Paloma M. Vazquez
  • 9 august 2011

We recently stumbled onto a very interesting experiment by mobile application consultant Jonthan Stark. On his site, Stark essentially invites visitors to buy their next coffee at Starbucks on him, by downloading a photo of his Starbucks card to your mobile phone. What does the experiment aim to observe and learn? According to Stark:

Jonathan’s Card is an experiment in social sharing of physical goods using digital currency on mobile phones. I stumbled on the idea while doing research for a blog post about Broadcasting Mobile Currency.

Based on the similarity to the ‘take a penny, leave a penny’ trays at convenience stores in the US, I’ve adopted a similar ‘get a coffee, give a coffee’ terminology for Jonathan’s Card. As it turns out, this is actually a new take on a wonderful old italian custom called Caffe Pagato, which translates to English as ‘Coffee Paid.’

Stark’s project allows for multiple layers of interaction:

  • Check the balance of his card (need to make sure the balance can currently cover your coffee order) by following @jonathanscard for an update whenever the card balance changes.
  • Generously contribute to the card balance by directly reloading the card on (using the card account number transparently provided by Stark)
  • Publicly sharing your activities with @jonathanscard – Tweeting a photo of what you bought, which Starbucks you’re at, or the receipt for what you ordered
  • Developers are invited to build something on top of the API.

Stark’s project is in no way, shape or form sponsored by or affiliated with Starbucks. The experiment aims to generate insight into human behavior (how many people will buy themselves a coffee on Stark — vs. how many will donate back to the card’s account, and whether photographs can serve as currency in the realm of digital and mobile payments. After all, if a photograph of Stark’s account contains the card account number and associated QR code – why wouldn’t it serve the same function as it would is Stark’s own hand?

We’re extremely curious to follow this project and learn from Stark’s experiment, and also to see if Starbucks has anything to say about it. Lastly, we may be jumping the gun here, but we can’t help but wonder if Stark’s experiment will inspire Instagram (and their community) in how they make the platform transactional.

Jonathan’s Card


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