Jonathan’s Card: Cool Social Experiment or Starbucks Marketing Stunt?

In July, mobile-app consultant Jonathan Stark decided to buy coffee for the Internet. Or at least, he put his Starbucks mobile-app code online—essentially a virtual gift card, loaded with $30—just to see what would happen. (You can pay at a Starbucks register by having the code scanned from your smartphone.) Well, the experiment took off, and people have been using the card—depleting it and loading more money onto it—ever since, in a kind of Web-enabled "Take a penny, leave a penny" dynamic. As of Monday afternoon, Stark said, some $3,651 had been spent on the card, and at least 177 people had donated money to it. A lovely little experiment, many have said, restoring their faith in the generosity of humans. 

     Unless it's all completely evil and deceitful. Stark has said he isn't affiliated with Starbucks. But the Coffee Business Strategies blog did a little sleuthing and believes otherwise. The site claims that Stark works as vp of application architecture for Mobiquity Inc., whose clients possibly include Starbucks. At least, according to screen grabs collected by Coffee Business Strategies, Starbucks was featured in the "Clients" section of the Mobiquity website—but that page was scrubbed clean and now pulls an error. 

    Is Stark hiding something? He has posted an emphatic denial on the card's Facebook page. He writes: "I am deeply hurt by accusations that I've been acting out of self-interest or on behalf of Starbucks, partly because it calls my integrity into question, but more importantly because it threatens to destroy the good feelings that have been built up by thousands of people who have participated in this wonderful experiment." Interestingly, Starbucks has let the little game continue. A rep there tells CNN in an email: "We think Jonathan's project is really interesting and are flattered he chose Starbucks for his social experiment. We're curious to see how his project continues to evolve." Via Consumerist.

     UPDATE: Starbucks deactivated the card on Friday over fraud concerns involving an automated script that steals from the card. Humanity is evil after all.

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