Net users get ready to count their beenz

A BRITISH Internet start-up company will today attempt to steal a march on larger rivals when it unveils a new virtual money, which it hopes will become the dominant currency of the World Wide Web, writes Peter Thal Larsen.

The currency unit, called beenz, comprises electronic credits that Internet users can save and spend as they surf. They cannot be exchanged into real money.

Companies will be able to offer beenz to lure visitors to sites or encourage them to fill in questionnaires about themselves. Users will then be able to trade in the credits at other sites in return for discounts on products or access to certain types of information.

The credits are issued by The Beenz Company, a one-year-old company that is the brainchild of Charles Cohen, a former Liberal Democrat speechwriter. The firm, which has raised several million dollars in funding from investors in the US and UK, has also gained the backing of US technology giants Oracle and Sun Microsystems.

Philip Letts, chief executive of Beenz, said the time was ripe for the idea. "The one thing that is missing from the Internet is a currency," he said. "Merchants have to find some way of exchanging value."