Lisa Rutherford points out in this excellent column at VentureBeat, any de facto online currency worth its bytes will have to be valid across several verticals. As Rutherford says, other online currencies have existed before–social network Hi5 has coins, Microsoft has Points, and Second Life has its own virtual bank. But never before has any one scrip shown the potential to reach so many users, with the potential to buy so much stuff.
I’m not an expert on numismatics, so there are probably more ramifications to this scenario than I’m acknowledging. But with Facebook Credits having different exchange rates all over the world, users will be able to hedge currencies, gain currency advantages, and buy and sell according to the currency markets. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; should Facebook Credits gain real gravity and the marketplace expand to real goods and services, there will be money to be made. But by making itself a marketplace and an issuer of scrip, Facebook may have invited a more complex economy than it ever intended.
Add to that issues of security, and the whole concept becomes troubling. Facebook has had problems with its application approval process as recently as two weeks ago, and can’t seem to kick its recent rout of phishing attacks, either. If you look at a company like PayPal, with its legions of account officers, its Fort Knox-level online security, and its IRS-like tenacity, you start to get an idea of the seriousness of the Web payments business. PayPal manages over 70 million active accounts, and safeguards the financial information for another 100+ million inactive ones. With 200 million users of its own, Facebook is going to need an internal PayPal of its own, and that’s a hard department to conjure from scratch–even for Silicon Valley’s golden boy.