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Connecting Credit Cards with the Social Web

Twitter’s founder talks about his new business, and getting people to share details of their purchases online.
November 12, 2010

Of all the things than happen in our lives, credit card transactions might seem like the last thing anyone would volunteer to share openly. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Eventually our credit cards may be connected with social apps like Twitter and Facebook.

At least, that’s what Jack Dorsey, creator of the original concept for Twitter, told me when we spoke recently about his new startup, called Square. A small, white gadget that his company makes plugs into the headphone socket of a phone and connects with an app that acts like a cash register: type in an amount and it will be billed to a card swiped through the gadget.

Dorsey and a growing team of coders, designers and financial specialists at his company have begun sending out thousands of Squares—sign up here to receive your own—for free. The company makes money from every transaction (a fee of 2.75% + 15¢) levied with every swipe, and the device is targeted mainly at small businesses and sole traders who don’t want to pay thousands of dollars for the hardware needed to take credit card payments. Square is also working hard on building Web tools that make it easy for people to track payments and look for trends in that data.

All that may seem far removed from Twitter, the short message sharing service that Dorsey cooked up with Evan Williams in 2006. But Square and Twitter may eventually come together, Dorsey told me. “Twitter isn’t a social network, it’s a place to express interest; following people, retweets, sharing links are all a way to express interest,” he said. “Payments are a way to express interest too.”

Most people may not be ready to tweet their financial transactions (although services like Blippy do make that possible by hooking into an online banking account), “but I think that is starting to change,” says Dorsey. “Think about buying songs on iTunes, people want their friends to know that they just bought a song from this obscure band.”

He expects people to become more comfortable with sharing what they’re spending on, and says Square is well placed to make it simple for people to do that, and to control exactly what they make public. When you pay using a Square device a confirmation page asks you to tap a button to be sent a receipt by email or text message. Dorsey notes that adding a button to tweet a purchase, or to check in on Foursquare or another location-based service, would be simple. Perhaps sharing our credit card purchases is closer than we think.

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