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Buy a coffee, give a coffee

Starbucks keeps on gaining from "paying it forward" social media experiment.

(Photo: David Trood)

For about a month, a mobile app consultant lent his Starbucks card to anyone who wanted to use it.

In July, Jonathan Stark, vice-president of application architecture for Mobiquity, a mobile computing services firm, uploaded a screenshot of his Starbucks card onto his website. All anyone who came across it had to do was show the bar code’s image to a barista and they could pick up a free beverage. According to his blog, Stark expected the experiment to end once the card ran out of money. But to his surprise, someone added more money onto the card after it sat at a zero balance for a day.

A novel take on the give-a-penny-leave-a-penny concept was born: Stark launched a Facebook page and a website for his card, and another developer created a code to constantly update the card’s balance on its Twitter feed.

Stark launched the experiment as research for a client on mobile payment systems, but there was a slight firestorm over whether he’d done it as a marketing campaign for the coffee company, a claim both Stark and Starbucks denies.

Either way, over a four-week period, it’s reported that “Jonathan’s Card” hit a balance of more than $10,000 thanks to many anonymous donors.

Unfortunately, in mid-August, Starbucks was forced to intervene and deactivated the card after a hacker shifted its funds to another Starbucks card.

It’s a shame the experiment came to a close, but as Stark says on his website, “Tonight we lose our bar code. But of course, we never needed it in the first place.”

As soon as it was announced that Stark’s card had been deactivated, other websites quickly spawned to fill the void, all of them offering money on Starbucks cards.