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Jonathan's Card (jonathanstark.com)
726 points by ams1 2354 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 219 comments

This reminds me of something that happened when I was just a bit younger... My girlfriend and I were graduating from pharmacy school and she was applying for residency positions (yes, they have those for pharmacists). Well, she found out she got the one she really wanted and so that night we went out to a nice dinner to celebrate. We did it up like you would expect a happy couple to - nice bottle of wine, share an appetizer and dessert, etc. We were still living on loans at the time and so in my head I was keeping track of about how much the meal was going to run me at the end of the night (for better or worse - keep in mind we were in college at the time). We had easily cleared a hundred bucks (quite the meal for college students who usually eat $7 sandwiches or more likely cook for themselves!), and when it was time for the bill, our waitress told us "The couple that was sitting over there paid for it."


You wanna talk about made our day? Try made our week. We had seen the older couple earlier, but we didn't know them, and they were gone by the time we got our bill. We couldn't even thank them, and we were just so... shocked. Since then, whenever we go out for a nice meal, I look for a young couple who looks happy and in love, just waiting to return that favor.

C.S. Lewis described altruism in one of his apologist books as a "good infection" - kindness that spreads uncontrollably. I can't do anything but agree.

I once crossed the Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco and when I hit the pay toll, the attendent told me the driver in front had paid for me. This has happened more than once.

So every once in a while, I'll do the same for a driver behind me - especially if they were generous enough to have let me merge into their lane (but usually, just as a random kind gesture).

Good infections rock.

Jonathan here:

Thank you so much for sharing your story – it really made my day. "Kindness that spreads uncontrollably" perfectly sums up my highest hopes for this experiment.

Best, j

Difference being there could be a time when I couldn't afford a hundred dollar dinner and then time when I can afford it. But a cup of coffee, not really sure if there will be times when I can afford and not afford it.

actually I can see how this will get down voted - but if a person has a smart phone what are the chances he can't really pay for this coffee? (not a rhetorical question but a purely probabilistic one) - so maybe this experiment may not test the true altruistic nature of people but more the curiosity of participating in an experiment like this?

I think it's more - sometimes you want to, sometimes you don't want to pay for a cup of coffee. Though, I don't think the experiment is to see if people are willing to give coffee to those who can't pay for it.

It's an experiment on social contribution, if I'm correct. Even though you can leech (and some will), a good amount of people might ultimately add more money than they spend from it. But why? Everyone is anonymous (kind of), and it's not like you have external pressure to be good.

If the amount on the card stays positive, you may have renewed my faith in at least a portion of mankind, Jonathan Stark.

Maybe it is a thought experiment, but what we see from Brian's story is that this thought process can be taken outside of the tech/HN/twitter bubble we all live in. It might kind of be enlightening to try this out in the real world (buy a coffee with cash for a stranger) then come back and share your experience.

I have heard similar restaurant stories happen to some of my friends. Jonathan's card is also a good idea.

However, I can't help wondering that with all this technology we are ending up in a situation where the Haves help the Haves and they all feel better for a little while. What can we do to make it easy to help the really needy? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just as easily drop $10 to help someone eat a few meals a day? I am aware of all the real world problems and constraints, but I hope these examples inspire some of HN community to build stuff that will help those that really need it.




This is an efficient way of buying fuzzies, for a really cheap price, and it's important to buy fuzzies or you start to fade. If you want to buy utilons, find a maximally effective charity (this means you either check Givewell or pick your favorite existential risk reduction org) and donate more than $10. Do not confuse the two problems, and do not attempt to solve them both at the same time!

Interesting links and comments. I did not want this discussion to morph too much in to an argument about economics and/or politics. That's why I glossed over them saying "I am aware of all the real world problems and constraints". patrickyeon captured my thoughts well with his comments below about how the system was selecting beneficiaries. That's the point I was trying to highlight.

The good thing about random altruism, i.e. giving stuff to people regardless of whether they need it or not, is that it doesn't encourage welfare dependency.

When you give free stuff to "those in need", you have to be extremely careful not to just wind up changing the balance of incentives in a way that just encourages them to stay "in need". Otherwise you're harming them, not helping them.

At the same time, if a few people riding the system that way is the price you have to pay to help the people who truly need it, isn't it really worth it?

I feel like random altruism makes us feel good while probably doing very little actual good. As the OP said, it's haves giving to haves.

As a have, I'm cool with this.

I think what the grandfather post meant was that Jonathan's card is meant to be scanned from a cell phone. If things like this are restricted to people with a cell phone (or a facebook account, or an iphone app...), the system selects for beneficiaries who are already above a certain level of need.

Text MEALS to 90999 to give $5 to the Chicago Food Depository. I do it quite frequently when some joyous happenstance comes my way or when I spend a bit too much on myself.

Good tip.

There are so many little things you can do that can make someone else's day. Here's another one: cook a meal for any new parents you may happen to know. Nothing fancy, just something you can drop off that they can easily reheat and maybe lasts a couple days.

Good karma!

Back in the days of pay phones, I had a friend who'd put quarters in the return slot. While it is a very small gesture, it moved me. Felt like sharing this.

Great story. Will do the same going forward.

Things like this are just apt for abuse. While in real life when this happens, we get a small connection with the person (they live near me / they also were getting coffee), on the internet, people only see a free gift card that automatically refills itself, and not the people that paid for it. When you are playing with other peoples money, it's hard to be frugal.

It looks like things have died down. The steady state seems to be one where the balance is low and the transactions are small: http://dpaste.com/589113/.

That would imply that the card is currently being used as intended.

Looks like it only gets abused when there is a high balance that people can see on the twitter feed. A solution is to focus on coffee not money. "at least one coffee is available" or "buy someone a coffee, no coffee available" or "someone gave the gift of a coffee". Oh, FYI free coffee refills after purchase in shore.

Indeed, the monetary value makes things impersonal - great idea!

The unfortunate thing about structuring the card in that manner is that: 1) it's not the way the card is programmed to work and 2)the experiment was to provide a vehicle for those who can't to benefit from those who can. The moment the individual the experiment as designed for would end the experiment; the inevitable end of buy one, give one.

Except by you stealing from it....

I'm trying to figure out- what's the difference between loading the card and just dropping $10 on the ground?

When I get small amounts of change, like a nickel, I often leave them on nearby ledges or fences or mailboxes or any object I can find. It's not so much altruism, as making life more like a video game where you can find small amounts of money by searching random objects.

Nobody is going to drop back 20 bucks after they found the $10 bill.

Thinking outside the box and buying someone a coffee can sometimes have unexpected results: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2860312

Link seems to be broken. What did it point to?

Please try both and share your findings with the group.

If I drop ten dollars on the ground, the person who finds it doesn't know they've been the recipient of someone else's generosity (rather than someone else's clumsiness) and hence they're less likely to pass that generosity on.

The experiment started on Twitter where a smaller group was initially involved (but sadly not this canuck). It was more of a take a coffee, leave a coffee thing between friends. Fun to watch.

Posting it to HN should bring interesting results. There's still money on it at the moment.

- It's hard to drop ten dollars cash on the other side of the country.

- You don't need a smartphone to use ten dollars you found on the ground.

- Cash can be spent somewhere other than Starbucks.

- There's no twitter account broadcasting the amount of money dropped on the ground.

- If you find money on the ground, chances are not good that it was dropped by someone from HN.

- If you tweet about money you found on the ground, you are just a jerk.

Whenever I go through a toll bridge, I frequently pay the toll of the person behind me. I've sometimes wondered if it propagates backward at all. For the Starbucks card, I would love to live in a society where this could work. Unfortunately it's one of those things where one anonymous bad egg will ruin (i.e., drain the account) for everyone else. Some way to restrict it to a community with less anonymity would help (i.e., go to a web site, auth through hacker news, and then you get the image -- then it is tied to your HN identity).

My wife works at a Starbucks with a drive-thru and says that the chain reaction frequently persists until the line is emptied; the longest such chain was around twenty cars.

> I frequently pay the toll of the person behind me

In what country/state/city? Is that legal? In most (all?) US cities, it is illegal to fill other peoples' parking meters because that robs the city of fines. But maybe it's not a concern for tolls?

> I've sometimes wondered if it propagates backward at all.

At most, it would only reach exactly the car behind you. If that driver decides to pay the toll anyway (or the attendant secretly pockets the additional payment), the extra payment would be surely be swallowed.

Some company in the Gold Coast (originally it was the city council, but they stopped, so someone else took up the slack) hires gold-bikini clad girls (called "Meter Maids") to put money into parking meters that are just about to expire. And leave an ad on your windshield. But then, it's a tourist city.

Whoa. That's odd. I think it should be illegal for the government to rely / depend on illegal behavior to make money. Otherwise, it seems like a conflict of interest in that there is no incentive to tackle the root cause of crime anymore.

I knew someone who got a parking ticket because he filled his meter. All the cars next to him that didn't bother paying in the first place got nothing. We guessed that the expiring electronic meter signaled the nearest enforcement patrol, and they didn't bother to check neighboring meters that didn't send the "expired" signal.

Don't be silly.

Refilling a meter to circumvent the time limit or cover up a violation is illegal in some jurisdictions.

Paying someone else's bill is not illegal.

    In most (all?) US cities, it is illegal to fill other peoples' parking meters
Is that true? A quick search brings up http://theexpiredmeter.com/2009/04/parking-ticket-geek-arres... , which suggests that, at the very least, it's legal in Chicago.

I've always seen karma as more of a net effect than a mystical thing.

In practical terms, paying the toll of the person behind you may not directly propagate to tolls being paid. However, the recipients are going to be just that much happier or less stressed out, and are likely going to pass that mood along to the people they interact with in some way.

It may only make a small, localized part of the world a tiny fraction of a percent better, but it adds up.

I think it was Steven Covey who wrote somewhere about the trim tab on a giant ship's rudder. It's expensive/hard to build a motor that can turn the rudders on a giant container ship directly while it's in motion, but all it takes is a little mini-flap on the edge of the giant rudder.

Jonathan here:

Thanks for your input, and perhaps for paying my bridge toll ;)

You wrote:

"Unfortunately it's one of those things where one anonymous bad egg will ruin it for everyone else. Some way to restrict it to a community with less anonymity would help."

I see where you're coming from, but I believe that A) nobody (with the possible exception of Starbucks) can ruin this, and B) the solution to the bad egg problem is to be more open, not more controlling.

Stay tuned... j

For a more practical membership-share or coffee-club type of set up restrictions make sense...but in this case I think the anonymity of it all is the interesting part — seeing the behavior patterns emerge naturally and anonymously will be very telling.

Hmm, I think posting the value of the card affects the data points. I understand why it needs to be done, but my thinking is that if nobody knows how much is on there it leaves it less prone to outright abuse.

If the card suddenly gets a $100 recharge I'm sure it will be abused a lot more. Maybe that's part of the experiment, but I'd like to see what people do in general without that knowledge.

EDIT: or maybe even just a "this card has more than <insert cost of minimum item>" so that people know it can be used, but not how many times.

Jonathan here:

I've been thinking about this quite a bit. One the one hand, last week some jerk saw a $50 balance and spent the whole thing in one shot.

On the other hand, people need to know when there is money on the card if they are thinking about walking down to a sbux to get a coffee.

I might try the "there's more than $10 on the card right now". I've also experimented with delaying the reloaded messages, and doling out the money more directly by asking who wants a coffee.

Folks who respond get the update if they're quick. We'll see what happens, but I believe that there is a sustainable way to handle it.

Cheers! j

How about putting everything in units of coffee? "There is at least 1 coffee on me" etc. "5 coffees were just added to me". This might take the emphasis off the amount of money on the card and onto the giving and receiving of coffee.

What about requiring interaction from purchaser.

Require a photo of the purchase.

It would add a level of social obligation. You could go further and require a tweet explaining the purchase. You could even add a little homily about good manners and not being greedy to the explanatory text.

I think you are doing a very interesting experiment with new financial entities, and I'm curious to see where this leads.

The homily sounds like a good idea; that's been shown to actually deter some in the past.

To the other points: how would you go about mandating a photo or any other form of interaction from the purchaser? Jonathan has his card picture posted on the website–Starbucks simply accepts that photo as payment, there's no authorization process in the middle where Jonathan could selectively let some use it while disallowing others.

As a demonstration of the possible, using an image is in the category of Minimum Viable Product, the more sophisticated product would of necessity be an APP that hooked into the existing API and would only show a valid payment code if the Conditions Of Use were met.

This could be a web-app or it could be a native one.

Out of curiosity, every 15 coffees people buy, does Starbucks send you a coupon for a free drink in the mail?

Looks like it: http://yfrog.com/kizp5xqj

His grand scheme is to start his own starbucks with all his coffee!

Oh and btw my name is jonathan too. Pretty cool

As of the time of this post, ~8:10PM Pacific, "jerk" has been used a total of 6 times in this thread - 5 of which are owned by you! ;-) I write this because this particular comment, for me, sends a negative vibe about you. By no means am I trying to question your intentions or character, but a different choice of word would go a long way.

Now, for the reason I actually wrote the comment: This should be expected behavior. It's quite possible that "jerk" actually needs the help more than the person who gets the one coffee. It's equally viable to assume s/he is simply taking advantage of the system. In the bigger picture, I think these dynamics are completely expected. Would you call the guy that gives $50 or $100 a jerk as well? Either way, it's an experiment, and I wouldn't expect it, given a proper sampling, to deviate much from what we see in society as a whole.

Best wishes - and great idea!

Perhaps keeping things simple, just a message that says "the card has balance", "no balance in the card", that way we can reduce the abuse

It looks like someone has figured out how to empty the card, in 2 minutes: https://twitter.com/#!/jonathanscard/status/1003474991889776...

I heard that! Looks like Jonathan's social experiment is clashing w/ eBay's "people are good" philosophy... either that or there are a LOT of thirsty people all at the same time.

Regardless, I'm glad we tried it; anyone have any theories of how it's being hacked?

I guess a way of doing it is to brute force the 8 digit CSC on the website and then transfer funds away from the card.

I hope Starbucks has some mechanism to prevent brute-forcing like this.

I think someone could have bought a SBux card with it. Looks like it has happened at least a few times now all within less than a minute or two of the balance being there. An employee or someone camping a store, perhaps... Is it possible to use the number to buy a card off their website online?

I'll be willing to put another $100 on the card on behalf of @Socialize's SDK Speed Challenge ( http://go.GetSocialize.com/SDK-Challenge) if someone can come up with a way to track who's hacking it. Any ideas?

I wonder what data you could get from reading the actual barcode? Would the CSC be in there?

Edit: I just checked with an online barcode reader and this isnt the case. It resolves to 6061006913522430

How is this post not spam?

is there a way to figure out what store the purchases are coming from?

Someone is DEFINITELY messing with it -- nobody buys exactly $45 in Starbucks: http://twitter.com/#!/jonathanscard/status/10035604975584460...

you never know -- multiple purchases could've added up to $45.00 exactly I guess

I'm inclined to go with Occam's Razor on this one and I am usually Devil's Advocate arguing that highly improbably events don't by themselves prove "guilt". However, multiple such? Even I think this looks very suspicious (and have become somewhat appalled at the amount of money people are willing to throw away to test if this has been hacked or not).

That's awesome! I wonder if more companies will jump on this for the goodwill. A bummer about the $100 being emptied in minutes though.

You deserve upvotes (and I upvoted you) but someone just nabbed that entire $100 off the card within a few moments of it being there...

I used to work at Chick-fil=A before I started working for a startup and we would get people that would start paying for the people behind them in the drive thru and the next car would pull up and we'd say: Hey you had a...(whatever they had)..and the car behind you has already taken care of it. They would look shocked, smile, and say well we will get the car behind us. And this would go on for 10 or more cars.

It was really awesome. We also had people come through and ask for food for a homeless guy that sits on the off ramp on our interstate exit, and Chick-fil-A would give them food to take to the homeless guy and I'm sure many more situations occur all across the country that make peoples lives better. I think there is a thread of hope in humanity.

You can't transfer funds onto another card if you do not own the card / have the CSC code.

Aha, you are right. I will edit that. Any ideas?

I wonder if Jonathan is around and is able to look up the transaction history on the starbucks website, and if that shows any information on where the money is spent/moved?

Jonathan here:

The transaction info available on the Starbucks site and mobile app is pretty limited, but I can see that the transactions are listed as "In Store Purchase". For example:


Unfortunately, there is no info about which stores the purchases were made in, and the history only goes back about 20 transactions. It does look like some people are making large purchases, which is jerky, but not totally unexpected.

Thanks, j

Thanks for your reply. I noticed an autoreload button in the screenshot and an idea I had is maybe it is possible to utilise 2 cards and reload one with the other when the balance goes below a certain amount? This would stop a person taking a large amount in a single transaction.

Something does sound fishy. I wonder why someone would ruin the fun for everyone involved.

$100 spent on coffee for the homeless maybe? Just to take an optimistic view on the data.

How about someone buying a coffeemaker (they sell those) and telling the clerk "I've got $100 on the card and I'll pay the rest in cash"?

You could be right, since something similar did take place as can be confirmed in one of the posts below (a large purchase for the homeless). But certainly we can agree that $15, $30, and $100 being drained in minutes to the exact penny must be cause for concern.

Edit: draining to $0.00 is OK, as jonathan explains below.

Jonathan here:

Draining the card to the penny is not weird. If there is $10 on the card and your purchase is $11.50, $10 will be removed from the card and you have to pay the remaining $1.50 some other way.

Expected behavior :) j

There is at least two cases that this doesnt explain.



edit: now at least 5, see above

Jonathan here:

I see what you're saying, and of course it is possible that some jerk is buying gift cards with the card.

That said, it's worth pointing out that the tweet stream is not real time and it doesn't have every transaction. The card balance is scraped from the sbux site every minute and posted to Twitter if it has changed since the last tweet. When there are multiple transactions in the same minute, the changes get aggregated. This can result in some strange looking numbers.

What I think we're learning here is that if someone wants to reload the card, lots of little transactions over time is better than one big one. Or, perhaps the balance should not be tweeted.

Thoughts? j

Can you put spending limits on a card? Or disable it entirely?

What I'm wondering is if you can have a deposit-only card, which transfers funds to the live card to keep it topped up at $10. Downside is some people have to wait an extra minute or two for free coffee; upside is someone trying to clean out the account has to spread it over a bunch of transactions, which even if it doesn't stop everyone probably raises the barrier to entry.

A PayPal account could also work for this.

Then you could broadcast a rough total balance, and just have a binary indicator for when the live card gets topped up.

Thanks for your feedback! Your suggestion is a good one and something that I've been considering. It is possible to reload one sbux card from another, so I was thinking about using one for deposit only and dribbling the balance into the purchase card at $20 per hour or similar. I think there's something about this that would ruin the excitement so I'm working on different approach at the moment. Not sure where it'll end up.

Yeah, I was thinking about that too. One thought I had (which others have suggested) is to encourage people to donate in small amounts— rather than drop $25 on the card if you're feeling generous, you should drop $5 on it each morning for a week.

But since that's kind of a hassle, then you'd whip up a quick app that lets people easily amortize a larger contribution over a series of coffee-scale contributions. Connect that to their twitter account, and you can credit each individual coffee donation to an individual and report them individually.

It's effectively the same as having a larger account balance, but since you're not holding the money it feels more engaging and social for folks.

The thing that scares me about this idea is the effect it would have on the donor if they didn't see their donation reflected immediately in the feed. Not only is it less exciting, but it potentially opens up questions about where the money is in the meantime.

I will strenuously avoid this turning into anything resembling a bank - it needs to be more like a "take a penny, leave a penny" tray sitting on a Starbucks counter. If someone want to be a jerk and empty the tray into his pocket, so be it. They're just a jerk who I'm sure will get what they deserve in life.

Fingers crossed, j

If you go with the deposit only card option, you could adjust your feed to display the aggregate of the two cards; but you're effectively capping an individual transaction to $20. The donor therefore sees their changes reflected in real time, but any cheats are limited (hopefully a cashier would get suspicious / frustrated if someone tried to work around the $20 limit by going multiple times in succession).

Mine too!

Perhaps use your API to determine when the card is less than $20 and add money to it then (rather than hourly rate), that way these big purchases can't be made?

I vote that you encourage people to make lots of little transactions over time versus just getting rid of the balance.

The balance is really neat to see and it keeps people engaged and thinking about this project, even if they're not actively partaking (like myself, at the moment).

The smaller installments of cash also help others realize that it's okay to submit small amounts and increase the likelihood that more than just one person with a large purchase will benefit.

Jonathan here:

The beauty of this is that one person can't ruin the fun for everyone involved. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I think people who don't get the concept are in the minority. Their behavior will be overrun 100x by people who do get the concept.

We'll see what happens soon enough... j

I'm kind of playing devil's advocate here and kind of not: How can you justify spending $n to buy coffee for someone with a smartphone instead of donating $n to someone with fewer resources and greater needs?

Jonathan here:

Fair point. My goal is to figure out the dynamics of social giving in this fashion and create a similar sustainable model around items that are less "luxury" than coffee.

For example, I can imaging people paying for other people's groceries or medicine in a similar manner. Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems worth trying.

Best, j

I don't go to Starbucks, but I just loaded up $10 because I'd really like to see this "succeed", whatever that means. It's gone already, so I guess the experiment is working? :P

Thanks! If you have a Twitter account PLMK your username so I can give you credit :)

Same for me. Not even living in the US but I want to see where this thing goes...

Thanks for the response. My question wasn't really directed at you—I can see all kinds of ways you could justify the project, including just curiosity. My question was for the people who are putting money on the card.

I hope one of your other ideas works! Good luck! But I suspect a big part of the impetus behind the contributions is a feeling of reciprocity, which is a different impulse from charity.

Taking that logic to its natural end - I should be living a meager existence, eating and buying only what is necessary for my own continued survival, and donating any surplus to people who don't even have subsistence level living standards (and there are a lot of said people).

But do I really need to explain why that is undesirable, or why most people in the world don't do this?

Well, smart people have made that argument (http://www.amazon.com/Life-You-Can-Save-Poverty/dp/140006710...) but it's not the argument I'm making.

The same way you justify spending $n on any luxury product you don't really need.

just loaded $50 on the card, bought 10+ coffees for tech caffeine addicts, got a sweet tweet because I am looking for a tech co-founder for my funded cleantech startup. thinking outside of the box for recruiting... just saying. Oh, and if anyone is interested in joining wa.tt email me, james@wa.tt

this is an interesting concept. Retweet people, who added money to the card, with an advertisement or announcement of their choice. Only issue I see is people loading the card and just spending it on themselves.

Maybe they have to tweet you the advertisement, and then you can retweet, so you get more exposure in their twitter stream as well.

Honestly, didn't think about it as "advertising" or getting exposure through tweets. Didn't really think about it at all, just went with my instinct.

You're doing it wrong.

Doing what wrong and how would you do it better?

You could say that about almost anything. "How can you justify commenting on HN, when the money earned in the equivalent amount of time wasted here could save n Nigerians from starvation?" You can't, not really. But Jonathan's card still is one of the more ethical ways of spending money, so I'm all for it.

I comment on HN because I enjoy it. But I suspect that some people add money to Jonathan's Card because it gives them a feeling of virtue. I'd like to interfere with that feeling.

> I'd like to interfere with that feeling.

Honestly, why? You can't scold everyone into "real" virtuous behavior, so why not give them a taste of what it feels like and see if they can get hooked?

Do you believe that people putting money on this card would actually donate it towards a more deserving end?

I (think I) understand your goal here, but ultimately I think what you're doing is either ineffective in or outright harmful towards achieving it.

$5,000 for @jonathanscard ... why not! http://twitter.com/#!/Socialize/status/100375061587951616

Although the bit about paying it forward and social sharing is a great idea on its own, I think I'm a tad more excited that he actually made an API for this. That's seriously awesome.

> Plus, it’s actually kinda fun to see those rewards stars drop into my in-app coffee cup.

Well, Jonathan may get the Rewards so it is not completely altruistic.

A real-time map of where transactions have been made ala http://twittervision.com might be interesting if this card goes viral


Jonathan here:

Yes, unfortunately I do get the rewards. I get a free coffee for every 15 purchased. I figured that the free coffees would accrue to the card itself and therefore every 16th person would get a free coffee. As it turns out, sbux mails free coffee coupons to me:


I'm not sure how to redistribute them fairly, but I was thinking that I could at least pass them out at my local store. However, doing so is expressly forbidden and my name is on the postcards.

Thoughts? j

Keep the coupons? Seriously. I mean, you set this up, you have funded it, etc.

Also, Maybe a good idea to ensure auto-reload is not setup on the card! I dont know that it is, but if it is you could be out a significant amount of money. Looking at your API calls I dont see where it has been auto-reloaded.

This is a neat idea.

If you're willing to throw the dice a bit, and you wouldn't consider this a tainting factor (no sarcasm), contact Starbucks. There's a distinct possibility they may work with you. Depending on how you judge the risk, you may want to do this anyhow, lest they simply shut the card down entirely in the near future. There is of course the risk that contacting them may cause that result sooner, but... in the long term you're probably better off contacting them anyhow because if they're going to shut it down when you bring it to their attention, they're going to shut it down when they discover it anyhow. I think you still come out ahead in the case where you contact them and they end up not shutting it down when they would have if you didn't contact them.

Otherwise, you're "stuck"; be open about it (as you are), and use them or not. I wouldn't hold it against you either way, personally.

Good shout - and Starbucks know good press so they're likely to keep it open when they see how much attention this project's getting. It seems strange that they don't just give you the free ones direct to your card - I guess it's down to the psychology of receiving a free actual physical thing, rather than there just being a slightly longer delay between needing to top up your card.

Buy a homeless person a coffee this winter and have a chat with them.

Absolutely. If you like social experiments, I could think of few that had more potential for so little risk/outlay. You might get some truly fascinating stories that you could share on your blog, or you might hear one tiny nugget of information that would be worth your while. At the very least, you'd give a homeless person something truly worthwhile along with a welcome hot cup of coffee.

Use them to buy your own coffees and whenever you do, add the value of the coffee to the card?

Think of them as a reward for the work you put into this project. You deserve it.

A fair way to distribute them would be send them to those that chose to donate to the fund?

I know it is a fictional movie but if you haven't seen it, "Pay it Forward" is a movie that might make you briefly think about your impact.

But stop watching 15 minutes before the end. The end of the movie totally countered everything they were trying to say in the rest of movie, IMO.

There's a cafe under the castle in Prague where for a decade or more, patrons can buy an extra coffee for someone else. A physical cup goes up on a line above the counter. Others, usually students, will come in, see the cups, and ask for the free coffee. A Czech architecture student told me she never paid for a coffee -- just took one from those donated. When I would visit the cafe, I would make sure to add another cup or two to the line.

Jonathan's Card didn't seems to work, and it makes me think (unsurprisingly) that what works at local levels as this cafe in Prague, can't work in the Extremistan that is the entire global community.

We're so used to all the benefits of this new, suddenly-made-close world: play poker with a guy in Singapore one moment, buy an antique off an old woman in Portugal the next, without moving anything but the mouse; that we forget the beauty and function that the local still provides.

This reminds me of the drive-through "pay-it-forward" chains that spontaneously appear from time to time:


Such a simple and wonderful idea; it brightened my Sunday. (Edit: I wonder how soon it will take SBX to decide that this is a vulnerability in their mobile app and change something that will break this.)

It really doesn't seem that much of a "vulnerability" actually. The only way to get a picture is if you get ahold of the victim's phone, or they willingly give it up to you.

If you get ahold of the victim's phone, the victim has bigger problems (NFC, e-mail, saved passwords, etc.).

All you need is a high-res picture of the victim's phone. Take a picture of them paying, use the same barcode yourself.

Standing in line waiting for my drink. Cool experiment. Going to put the cash back when I get home.

Follow-up, going to add money now but learning why for the modest bunch, this is genius. I spent a bout $5.50 USD to get a drink for my girlfriend and I. When I go to the Starbucks reload a card site, I have to put at least $10.00 USD on the card. What's more is this made me really think about the idea of Google Wallet and any other phone-based credit card apps. In theory, I could take a screenshot of anyone's card and just mail it to myself. Does anyone know if there's plans to randomize barcodes/symbols to prevent things like this? This really just brightened up my Sunday evening.

The twitter feed updates once per minute, so if the $100 is spent by a bunch of people w/in that period of time, it will just show -$100. Should be checkable by Jonathan?

"Jonathan's Card is an experiment in social sharing of physical goods using digital currency on mobile phones."

What, exactly, is the hypothesis? While this _seems_ cool, I really don't understand what he's setting out to prove, that we don't already know: This will work until the number of people who abuse it grows to a certain point, after which everyone will loose faith, and nobody will contribute more funds.

[Ha. I just noticed the posts describing how this is being hacked.]

This is a really cool experiment. Coffee seems like the perfect use case since it's awkward to exploit, in that you're not going to buy $100 worth of coffee, just because the card has $100 on it. But what about other physical goods, like Barnes & Nobles, HEB, Home Depot?

Well, you could buy a $100 starbucks card, which would break things. Someone already spent $30: http://twitter.com/#!/jonathanscard/status/10029778012327526...

That was me. One latte plus $25 worth of food for two homeless guys outside. Turns out they didn't want any of it. I think I might've insulted them by bringing them food that they hadn't asked for. :/

Or maybe they weren't homeless? Giving unsolicited food to homeless people is sort of like asking a woman when the baby is due. It's also important to remember that they may be homeless but many homeless people still have their pride and feel awful about having to ask for handouts, let alone have people randomly take pity on them.

I've lived in downtown San Diego for a while, and I've taken to just getting to know some of the homeless people who hang around the 7-11 by my apartment and buying food for them when they ask me.

That being said, you did a good thing by trying :)

This is a pretty great counterpoint to people who see something like this and immediately think of those who want to 'game the game'. Not that the exception proves the rule, but altruism does (in my opinion) beget altruism, good on you Sam.

Too bad the altruism was a ruse.

I once questioned the food our church sends out to the homeless, but it turns out that sunny-d and vienna sausages are, seriously, pretty much the only thing they'll accept.

With a taste like that in food, I'm not surprised your latte and (excellent, I'm sure) Starbucks sandwich fell on stony ground.

Good sentiment though. May karma follow you throughout the day.

Here is a heat map of the location of @ mentions for @jonathanscard, which for the most part is the location of those that have added funds to the card.


It would be really fun to combine this kind of point of sale reward with games or puzzles or tasks, sort of like mechanical Turk combined with OKCupid or wufoo.

Cash prizes are less interesting for this kind of thing. (various studies)

>Cash prizes are less interesting for this kind of thing.

I've read the same, but I don't believe it. For example people will say that fame is more important than money, but I would argue fame leads to more work, or more free stuff which in turn leads to money or more money than a set cash incentive. Or the case where people do things for points, but when those points are redeemable for physical items or discounts again this leads right back to some sort of cash savings. I think it always go back to some sort of monetary incentive.

I read in a recent Wired UK article that some banks have opted to pay a sum of money to a charity of their employee's choice, rather than paying the employee a full bonus - the idea being they've found this to be a better motivator for employees. Though admittedly it's also good publicity for the banks running such schemes.

I tried to load it, but all I got was: "This recipient does not accept payments from non-U.S. PayPal accounts." (I'm Swiss) Why would Starbucks restrict from where they get their money?

Paying with CC from outside the US works.

Hm, I didn't feel like giving *$ my email. But now that I tried it it says: "Please select a state or province." (I cant find anything in this list that is not US/Can) and "Please enter a ZIP Code at least 5 characters long" (we just have 4 digits). They just don't want my money..

"Please select a state or a province" I selected "Armed Forces Europe" ;)

Instead of virtually enlisting in the US Army I decided to just donate 10x what I tried to load on the card to a charity for Somalia. Thanks Jonathan for igniting my desire to give!

How is that Jonathans fault?

I think he was being genuine.

I'm in Australia, I just chose armed forces pacific and added a leading 0 to my zip code. A bit dodgy but it worked

The balance just went from $0 to $40 - awful nice of whoever did it. I'm a big fan of this idea - put in $5 and you can help out someone who you've probably never met!

what about buying a coffee and then loading the exact amount back on the card?

Seems to kind of defeat the point?

Use it when you can't afford coffee, refill it when you can afford a coffee plus a little more...

I don't understand: Do people really alternate between being able to afford a coffee and not being able to, more than a couple of times in a lifetime?

Being able to afford something and having enough change in the pockets is not necessarily the same. Plus, I guess a coffee you got for free because of the kindness of a stranger might taste sweeter than your regular venti.

Seriously, many people experience that weekly. That's what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.

I'm really not trying to be critical of other people's lifestyles (and I like the idea behind Jonathan's Card), but when it comes down to it I would want to be able to educate those people that they are living outside of their means rather than enable them.

If you're living paycheck to paycheck and buying Starbucks every morning, that's definitely part of your problem. I understand and fully appreciate paying a bit more for a quality product, but when it comes down to it, being able to start a savings and plan for your future is more important than enjoying a better cup of coffee in the morning. It's directly analagous to buying a car that's out of your price range (say, a Lexus when you're only bringing in $35,000 a year pre-tax) and struggling to pay the note on it every month. You really can live with the cheaper product, and in the long run it may do you a world of good.

Am I wrong? I'd like to see some other people's input on this idea.

You're not wrong about what they should do, it just has no bearing on what they do do. Given the choice between short term pleasure or long term pleasure for a short term sacrifice, most choose the former rather than the latter. Being able to delay pleasure is a skill many people just don't have.

If you alternate between being able to afford a coffee and not being able to weekly -- then you are not able to afford a coffee, period.

You don't get to define how other people say what they can and can't afford or how they define the term afford. Many people don't use that word like you're using it. Afford to many people means do I have a few extra bucks in my pocked right this moment; it doesn't matter if they won't next week.

I don't really like how this is playing out, seems every time the card gets a decent amount of funds it gets takes in 1 lump sum. As people have said I think the buy a gift card thing ruins it, socially I don't think people would run up $100 purchase in one go unless they aren't buying coffee/ food.

If people donating to it's money is all going to a couple of people working the system for their own gain it doesn't really motivate people to give to it.

At this point it's clear that the card can be abused as there are people who for some reason think it's cool to suck the balance completely dry.

However, a company like Starbucks could set something up that is very similar to Jonathan's experiment but with a reduced abuse potential: just introduce a card with a limit per transaction. For example, if you could only charge 6 USD per purchase to the card, it would make life difficult for the cheaters.

This is a great experiment. I just added some money to the card. I wonder to prevent abuse, if perhaps you should use two cards , one for people to give to (A) and the other to use at starbucks (B). You can transfer from (A) to (B), when the balance of (B) goes below a certain amount say $15 so that one person can't abuse the card by taking away all the existing balance.

I put in $11. Part of it was to download my iOS app Canon Lens Buddy (http://bit.ly/pe2KFS) as part of Advertising/social experiment.

The credits lasted 10 minutes before used up. Should be interesting to see if this results in any downloads.

Proof of top up: http://twitpic.com/62shre

Interesting experiment in that the image is public with no signup/restriction to get at it. You would need to have a continuous stream of new "pay-it-forward" users to add money on the card, no? There are lots of coffee drinkers in the world... Wasn't there something in the news not too long ago about an investment firm that ran this way? :)

> Wasn't there something in the news not too long ago about an investment firm that ran this way? :)

Only if there's also a continuous stream of people who are drinking without paying. If, out of a sense of community responsibility, people pay in close to what they drink (or a little bit more), then this system works.

Yes, but that is kind of what posting the image without a barrier to entry kind of guarantees, no? I guess that is the 'experiment'.. It would be more interesting if there were two cards, one public, one restricted to HN members or some other subset of 'public'.

It would be cool if you could see who paid for your coffee and also who had spent the money, and let them communicate.

Dave, just did that. Looking for a co-founder for my cleantech startup who likes coffee... very important... Jonathan gave me a sweet shoutout.

Jonathan here:

I totally agree. The sbux site and card don't support this directly, but I think I have a way to achieve this manually that involves requesting a coffee before you can know how much is on the card. We'll see!

Thanks, j

Reminds me of cafe in Japan where you order for person who comes after you and you eat what was ordered by person before you http://www.cabel.name/2009/09/kashiwa-mystery-cafe.html

I've created a Haskell implementation of his API: http://rawr.mschade.me/jonathanscard/

The page on Rawr includes a basic usage example as well as links to my implementation on GitHub and Hackage.

OK I just tried a test: @Socialize put $49 on the card -- let's see if a smaller amount still tips off the hacker: http://drod.io/2E071F3T0C0V0G1w0f39

the $49 is on there! Someone go buy a latte, quick! http://drod.io/3F0U1n340W1c0H1H0F29

That $49 sparked my walk over to Starbucks on the corner to buy one. (I put $10 on the card last night myself, hadn't used any.) By the time I was halfway there it was gone, and I decided to just buy it anyway, hoping it'd gotten filled but the feed hadn't updated yet -- and the barista gave it to me for free, unprovoked. I didn't even have to present the card.

I agree, photos, names, or some proof of humanity of the people behind the karma would help to stem abuse. The internet almost makes this abuse of karma easier due to the anonymity. You just don't feel as bad.

I contributed in order to get people telling my wife (http://twitter.com/#!/raintea) Happy Birthday tomorrow (8/8).

Thought I'd cross-post here for the cause too :)

just made a basic visualization of the data on the balances endpoint. http://aoberoi.me/jonathans-card/

I'm thinking about what types of interesting questions we can answer by visualizing the data. If anyone wants to contribute to that effort, fork me on github (https://github.com/aoberoi/jonathans-card) and send me a pull request, i'll update the site.

As somebody else mentioned, it's unfortunate that one bad person could ruin it for everybody else.

Is it possible to restrict the card only to coffee (to prevent huge catering orders)?

I don't believe you can, since Starbucks lets you use your card for any purchase. That said, even if you could, why restrict it? He mentions that the point of this is to be "an experiment in social sharing of physical goods", so making it something purely built on trust makes the experiment exciting and worthy. If someone does abuse it, then that's just a data point in the experiment; but, if it continues to be replenished, that's a neat observation and a certain +1 for human nature.

Looks like a bad apple or two has helped take the over $50 that was on it an hour or so ago down to $0. I don't see a normal pattern of withdrawing small amounts of money for coffee, that's for sure.

It's possible someone could abuse it. It will be interesting experimental data to see if this happens, how often it happens, and how much it happens.

There's no money on the card? http://jonathanstark.com/card/api/latest

There's $46.88 now, it fluctuates a lot.

I hope Starbucks' system can handle the amount of activity this thing is eventually going to get! You're picking up a lot of steam.

awesome initiative! I always loved the pay it forward concept.

P.S. does anyone want to call this guy Lord Starkbucks?

Now I know where Jon Snow ends up.

this is completely amazing and a great proof of concept -- there is so much that could be built on top of this

A while ago I was toying with the idea of making a BitCoin<->SBUX automated exchanger for fun, since card transactions are free and could be automated relatively easily. Never did get around to it. Also, there's a rather large scammy underside to BitCoin that would probably arbitrage the hell out of it.

Arbitrage with BitCoin? Surely you joke!

I think it is wonderful that many are generously giving others free coffee.

But... how many of them really believe in karma?

Karma Behaviorism: Does It Pay Off? http://bit.ly/nMPtFV

And in case anyone was wondering the first balance he tweeted was:


I got $7.91 left on me.

18 Jul

this is such a good thing and i hate to see this go to waste when some capitalist bastard starts selling coffees for half the price using the card.

It worked! Thanks for the iced Americano and pastry!

I think you might be the only person who has given thanks verbally back to the community... good on ya!

So, anybody set up the Auto-Reload yet ;-)?

interesting experiment, but all it takes is one troll to ruin the whole thing.

I love this idea.

You can check the balance here http://www.talkaboutdesign.com/starbucks/

US only?

And Starbucks shuts this down in 5... 4... 3... 2...

Why should they?

I don't think they _should_, I just think they _will_. Really, what international megachain wants people doing "social experiments" with their customer-loyalty infrastructure?

Because he gets a lot of free coffee rebates.

Why would they care as long they get 15 cups of coffee sold? And one person with lots of free coffee tokens is very less likely to use them all than various persons having them.

as a result of SB getting a lot more coffee sales.

OK I'm going to go nuclear to determine if this is some automated script or a manual hack: @Socialize just put $300 (!!!) on the card (remember... this is to promote the SDK Speed Challenge... so maybe click the link so I can claim some kind of ROI! http://go.GetSocialize.com/SDK-Challenge)

I figure if it's a script, the $300 will disappear instantly. But if it's manual, it's unlikely that someone could manually xfer that at a Starbucks counter w/o getting questioned.

Confirmations (max was $100 at a time):

http://drod.io/0G391o170o1e1V0Y400H http://drod.io/1t362M3B1a0t421I1Q0b http://drod.io/2O1R052m0g0q1g1P1x1V

Jonathan here:

The card was not hacked. Looks more like you're just trying to promote your link. Thanks though.

Cheers! j

@jonathanstark someone is totally hacking your card: http://twitter.com/#!/jonathanscard/status/10036286052539596...

Jonathan, re: not hacked -- do you think people are really spending exactly $45 at Starbucks in one shot?

@michaelschade that's my point exactly: $45 was removed and $4 was left on the card: http://twitter.com/#!/jonathanscard/status/10035604975584460...

So someone either bought exactly $45 worth of Starbucks on the card within minutes of me putting $49 on it, or someone is hacking it.

Do you mind releasing the transaction data available? The card went from $100 to $0 within moments a number of times.

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