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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook's new cryptocurrency, reportedly known internally as GlobalCoin, will be in "about a dozen countries" by this time next year, per the BBC. And it's going to be about more than just payments, according to an FT rep0rt this week — although the payments space alone is enormous.

Why it matters: "It should be as easy to send money to someone as it is to send a photo," says CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Given how many photos are shared across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp every day, it's clear that he sees an enormous opportunity here.

  • By the numbers: A single money market fund dedicated to Alibaba's Alipay service, Tianhong Yu’e Bao, had 588 million investors and $168 billion in assets at the end of last year. Mobile payments are both easy and ubiquitous in China, seamlessly bundled into social media apps.

But, but, but: You don't need to invent your own cryptocurrency in order to get into payments. Just ask Alipay — or, for that matter, Tencent, the owner of WeChat. Both of them are happy using China's fiat currency. And Facebook itself has incorporated dollar payments into Messenger since early 2015. So why create GlobalCoin?

  • What Facebook wants is not just to facilitate payments, but also to be able to print its own currency. That was the idea behind Facebook Credits in 2009: If you control your own coin, you can mint as much of it as you like and hand it out to users or anybody else at will.

What to watch: GlobalCoin has the promise of being a vastly more useful and sophisticated version of Reddit Coins — or, for that matter, airline miles. "Reward points are dumb," says Jeff Bandman, a crypto consultant and former CFTC official. "I’m not saying they’re a dumb idea. But a cryptocurrency is programmable digital software that you can put intelligence into."

  • Be smart: GlobalCoin can in principle be earned, rather than just bought. Amazon is already gamifying its jobs — that is, coaxing its employees to work harder by turning their jobs into a game with prizes — just as Uber has been doing for years. Perhaps soon Facebook too will become a game with valuable prizes.

The bottom line: The most important currency in the world, if you're a social media network, is attention. If Facebook ever dies, it will be because its users desert it for some other network, taking their attention with them. And so Facebook wants to give them incentives to keep coming back.

  • Right now, whenever you post to social media, you're doing valuable unpaid work for the Big Tech platforms. The users they value the most are the ones who create engagement and stickiness. If it had its own currency, Facebook could print money to reward such behavior.

Go deeper

Democrat Mark Kelly sworn in to U.S. Senate

Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

Astronaut Mark Kelly (D) was sworn in to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday after defeating incumbent Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) last month for the seat once held by the late Sen. John McCain.

Why it matters: Kelly's swearing-in by Vice President Mike Pence narrows the Republican majority and moves the Senate balance to 52-48.

Senate Armed Services chair dismisses Trump threat to veto defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he plans to move ahead with a crucial defense-spending bill without provisions that would eliminate tech industry protections, defying a veto threat from President Trump.

Why it matters: Inhofe's public rebuke signals that the Senate could have enough Republican backing to override a potential veto from Trump, who has demanded that the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Scoop: Uber in talks to sell air taxi business to Joby

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uber is in advanced talks to sell its Uber Elevate unit to Joby Aviation, Axios has learned from multiple sources. A deal could be announced later this month.

Between the lines: Uber Elevate was formed to develop a network of self-driving air taxis, but to date has been most notable for its annual conference devoted to the nascent industry.