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Virtual Drinks on Facebook Become Real With Bartab

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The idea of sending virtual items on Facebook is so yesterday if you believe Webtab, a 10-person company specializing in social gifts. Webtab provides solutions to purchase real goods that users can send to friends on Facebook: The first is drinks through Bartab, which is now out of beta in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, where the company is based. Gift recipients can currently cash in their drink at more than 100 participating bars.

Bartab started in 2008 as a Facebook award-winner with a simple concept that riffs off the virtual gift idea, but brings real value to users. After all, what can you really do with virtual sheep? Using the web or a Bartab app — available for both iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog) — users purchase $1 credits from Bartab. The credit enables them to choose a specific bar and drink which is then sent to a social networking contact. Recipients then have 90 days to claim their drink, and when they do, the service creates a ticket on the recipient’s phone. That ticket, sent as a text message, and another dollar earns the drink and virtual goods become real.

While Bartab sounds clever from a social networking and consumer viewpoint, there’s tangible benefit to the bars involved as well. Participating bars choose qualifying drinks for Bartab use, so there’s a level of control offered. Every drink redemption generates an update to Facebook, garnering free publicity for the establishment: something that could generate more walk-ins as location permeates social networking. And Bartab statistics — also available to participating bars — show that 80 percent of Bartab users stay for at least one more paying drink after redeeming their gift.

Although off to a slow start, the virtual-to-real goods market is showing signs of life as companies such as Webtab devise methods for consumers to mix commerce between the online and brick-and-mortar worlds. Social networks are the glue for such an economy; the “social collective” concept helps power deals at online coupon vendor, Groupon, for example. Founded in 2009, Webtab has received $1.5 million in real, not virtual, funding from undisclosed angel investors in Silicon Valley.

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