Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Photos by kind permission of Matt Jacobs, Capn Design. The hottest new eatery in New York won’t get rave reviews for fine service provided by its waiters. It doesn’t have any. Nor does Bamn! have tables, cashiers or any of the other basic amenities diners have come to expect. Instead, Bamn is a throwback to the first half of the 20th century — it’s an automat diner. Windowed compartments display hot, fresh food. Customers throw in a few coins and are rewarded with instant gratification. Bamn’s menu focuses on fast comfort food: hot dogs, grilled cheese, chicken strips, mac & cheese, etc. So-called ‘waiterless restaurants’ were first brought to the United States from Berlin in 1900, and Horn & Hardart Automats was once the largest chain of restaurants in the world. The last automat closed in 1991. Repeating history, Bamn’s founders came up with the idea of reviving the automat after visiting Amsterdam two years ago. (Fast foodies in The Netherlands never gave up on automats — the Febo chain is a mainstay of Dutch food culture.) Convinced that the “satisfaction is automatic” approach would once again be a hit with New Yorkers, Bamn imported automats from Holland, and set up shop at 37 St. Mark’s Place. Most items are less than USD 2.50, and the retro-futurist snack shack is open 24 hours a day. trendwatching.com reported on dormandise (“dormant products, brands, logos, campaigns and spokespersons that still reside in the collective consumer conscience, even though the actual merchandise has long ceased to exist”) a while back. Shall we baptise this concept dormandining? πŸ˜‰ Hungry, hurried customers in most cities are likely to welcome another option for cheap and super-fast food, especially if it’s available 24/7. So there’s no reason why shiny new automats can’t be a (recycled) hit across the world. Like My Postbank Cards, which we wrote about last year, Garanti Bank’s Flexi Cards allow customers to personalize the look of their bank cards. But Garanti takes the concept a bit further: customers can develop their own banking product. Flexi Cards are Visa cards that let the cardholder make a few key decisions, allowing them to set over ten parameters. When applying for a card, customers can manipulate variables like reward rates and types, interest rate and card fee. The rewards system is especially flexible, not only letting customers determine reward ratio and type (cash or points), but also enabling them to choose which payments will earn them extra rewards: whether it’s broad categories like restaurants, or specific stores like Zara. Interest rate, bonus rate and card fees are selected by sliding bars that render various combinations of rates and fees. Card fees, for example, can be pushed back to zero by committing to a monthly spending minimum. A lower interest rate leads to a lower bonus rate, etc. Lastly, after making serious decisions about financial terms, customers can design their own card, choosing from different colors and a gallery of images, or uploading their own image. There’s even the option of picking a vertical card, which is a world’s first for Visa. Opportunities? While customers appreciate being in control and creating a tailor-made card, inside and out, the bank is able to test various value propositions, gaining valuable insights into which customer segments choose which options. Self-segmentation through ultra-personalization. πŸ˜‰ In March, we wrote about Ether, a service that lets users charge callers by the minute. A similar service is offered by JyvePro, which works with Skype. Writers, tutors, web designers, consultants, lawyers, therapists and anyone else with something to say and sell, can download the JyvePro plug-in (an add-on piece of software). This connects a payment system to the user’s Skype account, and works like a taxi meter, tracking minutes talked, and invoicing customers once a conversation is over. Calls can be five minutes or two hours — the systems bills to the minute. For its automated billing system, JyvePro uses a digital payment service called Click&Buy, which also processes payments for online merchants like Habbo Hotel, iVillage, and the European version of Apple’s iTunes. Since calls run through Skype, customers and consultants can be based anywhere in the world, turning minipreneurs into global businesses. Customers have access to help/employees on demand, and consultants are able to tap into a worldwide client base, selling their time when it suits them. According to Skype, which celebrated its third birthday yesterday, 7 million people were on Skype yesterday morning, breaking all previous records. 7 million buyers and sellers ready to be connected, giving everyone access to the global brain. Eons is a new, full-fledged social network and information portal for baby boomers, encouraging them to celebrate life, get things done, learn and connect with other people over the age of 50. The company was founded by Jeff Taylor, who also created Monster.com. Divided into seven categories — Fun, Love, Money, Body, Goals, Obits and LifeMap — the website is highly focused on being active and realizing dreams. The goals section, for example, lets members publish the top 10 goals they’d like to accomplish before they turn 100, much like 43things. So far, 50,000 goals have been posted by over 7,000 people, including celebrity 50-plussers like Jane Seymour. A somewhat less cheery note is struck in the obits section. Members can subscribe to obituary alerts, search a database of over 77 million obits and also add tributes, memory journals and photos to obituaries. (Free for now, but an annual charge will be implemented in the future.) Another feature is a proprietary search function: cRANKy, which is touted as the world’s first age relevant search engine. Instead of serving up millions of search results, cRANKy limits results to the highest ranking handful, as well as results that have been hand-picked by editorial staff and members. Top searches give some insight into the website’s audience; at time of writing, the top 10 included ‘rv lifestyle’, ‘firearms’, ‘jobs after retirement’, ‘gardening’ and ‘sudoku’. Social aspects include groups that members can create and join, formed around shared interests ranging from ‘Metaphysics’ and ‘Stocks or real estate?’ to ‘Boomer Bikers’ and ‘Pilates Pals’. Members who’d like to share their stories can either create a personal Life Map, or set up an Eons blog. Opportunities? Boomers everywhere are interested in connecting with members of their own generation and finding information that’s relevant to their stage in life. And advertisers are jumping at the opportunity to target a (mostly) cash and time rich audience. Setting up local versions of Eons, combining popular features from across the social web and giving them an age-related makeover, is a sure winner. Continuing what’s becoming a Springwise theme, another brand has popped up in the virtual realm of Second Life. This time it’s Telus, Canada’s second largest telco, who opened a store in the sim of Shinda last week. Telus is both the first major Canadian corporation, and the first major telecommunications company to enter SL. Unlike Aloft Hotel and American Apparel‘s store, which are both located on privately owned islands, Telus set up shop in a downtown area on SL’s mainland (visit location). According to 3pointD, the telco’s foray into Second Life was initiated by a Telus advertising manager. Sparkle Dale, as she’s known in Second Life, has a personal passion for gaming and metaverses and saw an opportunity to extend her employer’s brand into a new realm. The store was designed along the lines of flagship stores in Toronto and Montreal and features phones that are modelled and named after actual Samsung and Motorola models. While integration with Skype, other voice over IP systems and real life mobile phones would of course be an exciting way to merge virtual and real worlds, Telus’s SL phones currently only let users shoot off busy messages to other citizens. The phones are on sale for a few hundred Linden Dollars, which is the equivalent of a few US dollars. World Land Trust, which was founded in 1989 to preserve the world’s most ecologically important and threatened lands, recently created a new way for concerned citizens to help the earth. The foundation now offers carbon offsets by sms/text message. Every time a consumer texts “WLT CARBON” to number 87050 (within the UK), World Land Trust will offset 140 kilograms of CO2 through its Carbon Balanced Program. The program regenerates rainforest, which not only helps remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but also provides habitat for endangered species. 140 kg of carbon dioxide is equivalent to the emissions produced by 16 restaurant meals, a one-way flight from London to Berlin, or average use of a tumble dryer over 2 months. An offset message costs GBP 1.50 plus standard network charges. Users can create accounts that keep track of their sms donations. Like hybrid taxis or Donny Cards, this concept’s strength lies in making it easy for consumers to be good. One for other non-profits to copy and learn from! Spotted by: The Observer Combining one of today’s leading consumer trends (customer-made) with a continuing trend in interior design (wallpaper), Naked & Angry just launched its line of user-designed wallpaper. Wallcoverings constitute Naked & Angry’s second series of products featuring patterns created by the brand’s audience. Anyone can submit a pattern design, which is scored by other Naked & Angry users. The highest scoring designs are manufactured in limited runs, with patterns providing inspiration for what the actual product will be. (The first series featured silk neckties in five patterns.) Creators of winning designs receive a USD 500 cash prize and 5 free Naked & Angry products. Naked & Angry’s five wallpaper designs have been hand-screened locally in Chicago, in very limited quantities, and are priced at USD 60 per double roll. For more examples of co-creation, check out our coverage of customer-made euro-threads, hemp milk flavours, advertising, slogan t-shirts, and mobile content. For a whopping 10,105-word dig into the customer-made crates, see trendwatching.com’s briefing on the subject. And then it’s time to find your own way to channel your customers’ creativity. Following our article on a German beer for women, we were alerted to a Dutch wine for women. Sophie & Sophie is rosΓ© wine sold in small bottles. Actually, it’s not quite wine, but a wine ‘refresher’ made from wine (51%), dealcoholized wine (31%), and grape must (18%). Must is the juice of freshly pressed grapes, before it’s fermented into wine. Which leaves a drink that tastes like semi-dry wine, but only contains 5.5% alcohol, and half the amount of calories in real wine. Sophie & Sophie was created by Natural Wines, a wine merchant that specializes in natural products with a low alcohol percentage. The company’s founder discovered that his three twenty-something daughters were drinking nothing but Bacardi Breezers and hard liquor on their nights out, and decided that they needed an oenophile’s alternative. He teamed up with an ad agency and they came up with Sophie & Sophie. The beverage is aimed at female consumers between 18-30 years old who’d like a change from sweet mixed drinks. The wine is sold in stylish little bottles (a new business concept that’s long overdue anyway), containing enough ‘wine’ for two glasses. Should go down well. In moderation, of course πŸ˜‰ Scion just became first automaker to run a campaign in Second Life, releasing virtual cars in the popular metaverse. Toyota’s progressive brand announced the initiative at the Second Life Community Convention in San Francisco. While a real-world version of the boxy Scion xB was driven around a parking lot near the convention center, silver virtual models were dropped at various points in Second Life for residents to drive. A full launch will follow in October, when SL citizens will be able to customize Scion models. Makes sense, considering Scion already lets buyers do a fair amount of customization on real-world cars. For images of Scion’s launch in Second Life, see intellagirl’s coverage of the event. (Thanks to Cyrus Huffhines at Millions of Us for lending us an xB!) Second Life is only accessible for people over 18, so Scion also launched in Whyville, a virtual world for teenagers. Residents of Whyville can buy a Scion with clams (the local currency), customize the car and drive their friends around. Since Whyville has an educational slant, teaching kids about everything from science to money management, members can take out a virtual loan through the site’s Club Scion and Toyota Financial Services. Scion launched in Whyville in May and over 1,200 Scions have been purchased since. For more on brands entering Second Life, check out our previous coverage of Aloft Hotels and American Apparel. The later has sold over 2,000 items of clothing in SL (source: AdAge), and offers virtual shoppers a 15% discount if they buy the same piece of clothing in the real world. Who’s next? Adidas Reebok is planning a Second Life project that will let SL residents give feedback on sneaker models and colours. Meanwhile, engineers at Amazon are working on building a bridge between Amazon and Second Life (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is an investor in Linden Lab, which created Second Life). Last but not least, trendwatching.com offers an extensive overview of branding in virtual worlds in youniversal branding. Websites: http://www.scion.com and http://secondlife.com zeeDive is a reverse auction e-tailer. “The longer you wait, the more you save.” The company doesn’t hold stock. Like eBay, it facilitates auctions between individual buyers and sellers, and the website displays articles for sale in a large variety of categories. If a shopper sees something they want, there are two ways to get it. Or in zeeDive’s lingo, to catch the dive. They can click the ‘Catch it now’ button to catch a dive instantly, at its current price. Or, for an altogether more entertaining experience, they can set a catch price, the amount they would be willing to pay for an item. If the dive goes low enough, the catch is theirs. The interface cleverly plays up the sense of excitement: an orange line travels down the dive bar, showing real-time price changes. The visuals are especially lively for ‘flash dives’: hot items that are only on sale for a few hours, and whose prices drop every second. While so-called Dutch auctions are routinely used to sell flowers and US treasury notes, they’re a novel approach to buying and selling online. Fun, feverish bargain-hunting, errr… diving… could make them as appealing to consumers as regular online auctions. ZeeDive is currently in limited private beta (only available for invitees), but set to be fully accessible by November – just in time for the holiday season.