Facebook today launched a new service that allows users to give other members gift cards to stores and restaurants.
The social network said users can buy gift cards to Jamba Juice, Olive Garden, Sephora and Target.
For example, a user could buy a gift card for a former college roommate. The roommate would be notified immediately and would receive a Facebook Card in the mail.
The cards are reusable, so if someone receives a second gift, the gifted amount will be added to the existing card. The service will be gradually rolled out across the U.S.
"Your card can hold multiple gift balances, and each balance is dedicated to the retailer associated with the gift," said a Facebook blog post. "For example, you might have gift balances of $100 at Sephora, $75 at Target, $50 at Olive Garden and $8.25 at Jamba Juice."
Gift card recipients can review their balances in their Facebook account settings. Card balance changes can be messaged to users' phones.
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the service is a smart move for the social network, and it could be a good money-maker someday.
"I think it's innovative," said Gottheil. "Facebook is leveraging its key asset, the one-to-one relationships between people, to nibble at the edges of the retail economy.... [It can generate] real revenue at very little cost. And revenue has always been Facebook's challenge."
While the number of participating retailers is small, Facebook could easily expand the list if the program succeeds.
"I think this could be very lucrative for Facebook," said Gottheil. "Think about it: Facebook is where you see the people whose birthdays you forgot until the last minute. Now you just send them a card."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter, at @sgaudin, and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.