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NEW YORK (AP) - Want to hunt polar bear in Alaska, entertain your mother-in-law at a Paris restaurant, rent a house-boat for a Mississippi cruise, hire a big-name orchestra for your daughter's wedding reception—and charge it?
All you need is a credit card.
These are some of the more bizarre ways you can use a credit card but their purchasing power covers the whole gamut of goods and services.
It's estimated that Americans are carrying 200 million credit cards and using them to spend around $50 billion a year.
As a result of the proliferation of credit cards, there has been widespread speculation about the possibilities of a checkless, cashless society in the future.
Some bankers envision nationwide system In which a single identification card would be used in place of all checks and almost all cash.
But American Express, a big name in the credit card industry, says, "The single-card system couldn't be further from reality today. The most striking feature of our present system of transferring money is the multiplicity of credit cards."
Credit cards as we know them today were pioneered in 1950 by Diners' Club, which was created with 200 members, an initial investment of $18,000 and a handful ot restaurants In the New York City area. Within a year it had grown to 10,000 members who could charge at more than 1,000 establishments.
Credit cards now fall into three categories:
—Travel and entertainment. Operators in this field are American Express, Diners' Club and Carte Blanche. These cards are held primarily by business and professional men.
—Private label. Oil companies, airlines, hotels, car rental companies and department stores offer these cards primarily to promote their services or products.
—Revolving credit cards. These cards, largely regional or local in nature, are issued mainly by banks and financial organizations and are meant primarily for use by housewives for shopping.
The credit card companies derive their revenue from discounts from establishments which accept the cards in lieu of cash and from membership fees. Some credit card practices have come in for criticism recently, mainly because of the mailing of unsolicited cards by banks and some others in the revolving credit field.
PARIS — Long after other media joined the digital revolution, book publishers clung to the reassuringly low-tech tools of printing press, paper and ink.
But now the world of books is starting to go digital, too.
Last week, American authors and publishers reached an agreement with Google to settle lawsuits over Google's Book Search program, which scans millions of books and makes their contents available on the Internet. The deal lets Google sell electronic versions of copyrighted works that have gone out of print.
"Almost overnight, not only has the largest publishing deal been struck, but the largest bookshop in the world has been built, even if it is not quite open for business yet," wrote Neill Denny, editor of The Bookseller, a trade publication based in London, on his blog.
The Financial Times today reports that China does U-turn on online money-making. Making 'real' money by trading virtual currencies earned from online gaming was banned two years ago, but it looks like the Chinese government has changed its mind. China will now collect a 20 percent tax on income earned from online gaming.
As I point out in a post on The end of Doha and the World of Warcraft, gold farming and trading in virtual currencies is "largely under the radar of the World Trade Organization and, to some extent, government tax collectors." The FT cites an online contributor with a slightly more poetic take on the issue: "If they successfully implement this tax, I will jump over Mount Everest."
Teach The People, a Facebook application and fbFund finalist that allows users to create learning communities, has launched to the public. Alongside the public launch, the startup has also annouced its partnerships with The Learning Annex (which offers lessons from celebrities), Destiny Image, and Quinnipiac University's Professional Athlete Transition Institute which will help initially populate the site with content.
At first glance Teach The People strongly resembles Facebook Groups, but offers a number of enhancements that make the platform more suitable for teaching. Each community instructor can upload documents, media, and online webcasts. The platform also will support premium content, offering an integrated payment system that allows instructors to charge for their online lessons.
Users will make use of a Digg-like voting system to request that their favorite instructors cover topics they're interested in. And to ensure that the content available on the site will actually be worth paying for, Teach The People is planning to offer a certification process to instructors for around $50. The site will also be implementing a rating system.
Teach The People originally launched at last year's TechCrunch40 as a standalone site, but is now shifting its focus to its Facebook application. The company was one of 25 winners (out of 600 applicants) to win $25,000 from the fbfund, and is in the running to win an additional $225,000 this December.
Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.
In the platform wars between Facebook on the one side and MySpace, Google, and the whole OpenSocial crew on the other, the side that makes it easier for application developers to make the most money will win. Advertising in social networks has always been problematic, and with an advertising recession upon us those already-low ad rates are going to get lower, not higher. The other way to make money on these platforms is to try to charge for apps themselves or sell things through the apps. But to do that developers first need a payment and billing system to tap into.
Less than an hour ago, MySpace COO Amit Kapur revealed at the Web 2.0 Summit that MySpace is working on its own payments and virtual gift products that MySpace developers will be able to add to their own apps.
Facebook has its own virtual gifts, but has not yet opened that to developers. (Although there is a gift economy inside Facebook powered by other companies). And Facebook has been rumored to be working on a payments system since forever.
iPhone's App Store has proven that, at least on mobile phones, people are willing to pay for apps. Bringing that model to social networks could work if the quality of the apps goes up and the number goes down. One problem with Facebook and MySpace apps is that there are too many of them. there are no barriers to entry. Charging for apps, or trying to sell add-on services through them, would force the startups and developers creating them to build something that people are actually willing to pay for.
And it is not just the developers who are in a sudden rush to figure out how they are going to make money. Facebook and MySpace are also under more pressure to ramp up revenues these days.
The challenge to switching over to such a model from the current free-for-all is that the value of many of these apps is directly correlated with how many people use them. (More specifically, with how many of your friends use them). The minute someone charges for an app, the adoption rate goes way down. So some aspect of most of these apps will likely always be free. But the ability to charge for extras or for a more fully-featured experience might actually result in better apps being produced.
In any case, the race is on to provide alternative revenue streams besides ads to app developers. Will MySpace beat Facebook to the payments party?