Facebook’s 27-year-old founder, Mark Zuckerberg, isn’t usually mentioned in the same breath as Ben Bernanke, the� 58-year-old head of the Federal Reserve. But Facebook’s early adventures in the money-creating business are going well enough that the central-bank comparison gets tempting.
Everything started quietly, in 2009, with the experimental launch of Facebook Credits, billed as “the safe and easy way to buy things on Facebook.” Anyone who chipped in $5 from a Paypal account, Visa card or the like, could do the equivalent of changing money on an overseas trip. Voila! — $5 turned into 50 Facebook Credits.
Initially, the Credits-based economy was confined to the virtual world’s trifles. Credits could be spent to buy imaginary gold bars for aficionados of Mafia Wars, or bouquets of virtual flowers for birthday postings on friends’ Facebook accounts. This new form of digital money was cute but essentially useless for mainstream activities.
Lately Credits have become more intriguing. Warner Brothers this summer offered movie-goers a chance to watch “Harry Potter” and “The Dark Knight” for 30 Credits apiece. Miramax and Paramount countered with film-viewing offers, too. In a provocative post this week on Inside Facebook, guest blogger Peter Vogel argues that Credits in the next few years will become more of a true currency.