Create the Future. Today

Not long ago we wrote about permaculture and Australian Permablitz’s volunteer-based implementation of the concept in urban gardens around Melbourne. Now one of our spotters has come across the first for-profit example we’ve seen. Launched earlier this year, San Francisco-based My Farm calls itself a decentralized urban farm that grows vegetables in backyard gardens throughout the city. For anywhere between USD 600 and USD 1,000—depending on size—the company will install an organic vegetable garden in a customer’s back yard. My Farm will first test the ground for toxins and other soil-composition issues, and gardens can be as small as 4-by-4-feet or so large as to completely transform the back yard. Customers can also choose whether to produce just enough for their own family or whether to become owner-members producing enough for My Farm to sell as well. Either way, once the garden’s in, My Farm will maintain it using organic and permaculture techniques including drip irrigation and a compost pile; the company’s employees do most of the work by hand and travel by bicycle whenever possible. Maintenance costs are USD 20 to USD 35 per week, with discounts for owner-members. Then, of course, in addition to maintaining, My Farm will also harvest produce at its peak, leaving a basket of fresh veggies on the consumer’s doorstep when they’re done. For members, that basket includes some of the abundance produced by other backyard gardens as well, resulting in even more diversity. Finally, for those without their own gardens, My Farm’s produce is still available for delivery: a full basket, suitable for a small family, costs USD 35 per week, while a small box for one is USD 25. A like contender called Your Backyard Farmer reportedly operates on a similar model in Portland, Ore., according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and with food prices increasing the way they are, it’s a safe bet that more are on the way. After all, rather than face another week of plastic (and expensive) grocery-store tomatoes from across the planet, who wouldn’t invest a little extra cash to get their own garden producing the real thing? Website Spotted by: Stacy Jo McDermott When we wrote about Marziplanner’s wedding planning software a little more than a year ago, we noted the related opportunity to devise an online version with more of a focus on the social side. As if on cue, a new site has just launched that brings social networking and Web 2.0 features to the planning of all events, nuptial or otherwise. As anyone who’s ever planned even a simple get-together knows, it just isn’t easy, what with all the calls to make, venues to find, reservations to book and schedules to coordinate. Just launched last week, Center’d aims to connect all the pieces and make it easier to plan an event of any size, including picking a place, agreeing on a time, selecting service providers, sending invites, managing volunteers, hosting and communicating. As a way to capitalize on trust, Center’d asks all users to register and interact on the site via their real names, though they can control who may see their profiles. Businesses and individuals alike can participate, making use of the site’s local search, social networking features and interactive planning tools. Users of Center’d can search for a local restaurant, read reviews, see if their friends like it and plan a get-together there, for example, all without leaving the site. Center’d also has aggregated ratings and reviews from around the web, so people can get a quick snapshot of what the general audience thinks. Polling tools help get invitees’ input on what time and place they prefer for an event, and task-management and volunteer sign-up features make it easy to coordinate who will do or bring what. Users can also browse public events in their area and add them to their own calendars, while optional calendar sharing helps friends stay on the same page. Finally, users are awarded points for all the community-serving actions they take on the site, such as reviewing a restaurant or inviting a new user to join. Soon, those points will be redeemable for “some very cool stuff,” Center’d says. Using the site is free. There are other events-focused sites out there, but the addition of Yelp-like local search, Evite-like invitations and social networking a la Facebook could set Center’d apart. The California-based site, which evolved from an earlier iteration called FatDoor, is currently in what it calls its “first draft”; how it will make money remains to be seen, but local advertising and premium features seem like a safe bet. One to bring to your local event market? Spotted by: Corie Pierce With the rise of virtual worlds, the burgeoning fashion market for avatars brought real-world brands and designs into the virtual realm. Now, the trend appears to be going the other way as companies begin to let consumers get their avatar fashions made into real-world clothes. Avatar clothes have become big business in the virtual world, and a new partnership between Swedish avatar dress-up site Stardoll and German t-shirt commerce site Spreadshirt could allow users to take virtual clothes they create or see online and get them made into the real thing for use in the real world. To start, users will be able to take logos or graphics from popular labels in the Stardoll world and get them emblazoned on real-life t-shirts, hats and other items. Eventually, though, the possibilities could expand dramatically, Matt Palmer, Stardoll’s executive vice president and general manager, told Virtual Worlds News in April. “We know through our research that kids would love to get their hands on them,” he explained. “The opportunity allows us to experiment with what we can take from our world that’s a simple idea that kids can customize, get made and have sent to them. That sort of translation of virtual world to physical world—I view this as the first step in looking at what that could look like for us.” Virtual world Gaia has also begun selling real-world fashion on its site, and one can’t help but wonder how long it will be before Second Life and other popular virtual worlds starts experimenting with something similar. From there, of course, the next natural step will be to let users sell their real-life creations for real-world money, just as they can currently sell their virtual ones. One to watch! Websites: Contacts: Spotted by: Iconoculture via RK Several years ago we wrote about Reality TV in a Booth, which gave South African consumers a chance at instant stardom, and now Dutch media entrepreneur John de Mol is tapping the crowds to find the next big ideas in non-scripted television—with big rewards for those that get chosen. Just last week the creator of ‘Fear Factor,’ ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Deal or No Deal’ launched TalpaCreative, an online community that offers American TV fans the unprecedented opportunity to create and sell their original non-scripted show ideas. Those who become members of the site can submit original format ideas as well as respond to more focused creativity assignments posted by De Mol and his creative team. Two submissions per month are required to retain membership, which is free. Members also have access to the site’s exclusive newsletter and an array of online media resources to help them stay up-to-date on the latest trends. Trend-spotting is strongly encouraged as well, with cash prizes for the most prolific spotters. The best show ideas submitted to the site will be developed by De Mol and his creative team and may be produced and distributed internationally by Talpa Media Group and Endemol, with the creator’s involvement throughout the process. A cash reward of USD 500 will be given to the most active and creative member of the site each month, and shows that get put into production will earn their creators USD 50,000 or more (spelled out in clear-cut legal agreements), depending on how far they get. De Mol explains: “I am certain that someone with little connection to the TV industry is sitting on a truly great non-fiction show concept. offers that person a direct line to my development team, which could be all it takes to make their dream into our next reality hit. We are ready to take creative and financial risks, to bring some of these ideas to life.” From product-design contests by major consumer brands to ad agencies for consumer-created ads, there’s no doubt companies are finally starting to realize (and reward!) the potential and profitability of crowdsourcing and the customer-made trend. How can the wisdom of the crowds help your brand compete? (Related: Crowd-managed TV production company.) Spotted by: Jochem de Swart For dieters working to lose weight, maintaining a decent wardrobe of clothes that fit can be an ongoing—and expensive—challenge on the way to a target size. With just that situation in mind, Transitional Sizes rents out name-brand clothing for temporary use while the pounds come off. Maryland-based Transitional Sizes, which just recently launched, offers women’s and maternity clothing in a range of sizes for monthly rental fees ranging from about USD 3 to USD 25. (Men’s clothes are coming soon, the site says.) Customers order items in the sizes they need and keep them for as long as they want; once they’re done, they clean them per the instructions provided by Transitional Sizes and send them back in the original box. Customers needn’t be members to order from the site, but membership packages ranging from USD 10 to USD 40 per year are designed to give dieters a range of extra perks, including coupons, discounts, email alerts and weight-loss incentives. Transitional Sizes’ inventory is still very limited, and its site feels rough around the edges. Nevertheless, the concept is a good one, and could be enhanced by personal features such as automatically sending a smaller set of clothes when a customer is scheduled to have dropped to the next size, for example. And how about a partnership with Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig? Either way, dieters are just one group among the legions of transumers out there, eager to be free from the bonds of (unnecessary) ownership. Which creates lots of opportunities for entrepreneurs who can support the new leasing lifestyle! (Related: Baby clothes rental service.) There’s nothing like a great song to inspire music fans to want to learn to play it themselves, but doing it right is rarely easy. Enter Now Play It, a UK-based site that offers video instruction taught by the artists themselves. Launched last year, Now Play It aims to get people as close to the artists and songs they love as possible. To do that, it offers downloadable video tutorials on the art and craft of playing hundreds of different songs on guitar, bass, piano or drums, many of them led by the artists who wrote or perform them. Paul McCartney, Blur and KT Tunstall are among the artists currently offering instruction on the site, and users can search for tutorials by artist, song, instrument, difficulty level or tutor. Now Play It’s full tutorials, priced at GBP 3.99, are typically split into three parts—lesson, recap and play-through—and are at least 15 minutes long. In-house tutorials follow the same format but with instruction by a Now Play It tutor instead. ‘Lite’ tutorials, meanwhile, are just two parts—play-through and recap—and are generally between three and six minutes long; pricing is GBP 1.99. Downloads are available in MP4 or Windows Media Video formats. With Generation C‘s penchant for content production, Now Play It is sure to find an enthusiastic audience among the many consumers out there seeking to create, to express themselves and to make the music they love their own. Being taught by a well-known artist, meanwhile—even if by video—is sure to give them a heaping helping of status skills and stories to share about the experience. Now Play It currently offers a forum for community discussion, but a logical next step, it seems to us, would be to give consumers a place to show off the results of their instruction with video and recordings of them playing the music they learned—along with opportunities to critique and discuss. If there’s anything better than content, it’s content plus community! (Related: Music school for generation YouTube.) Spotted by: Lloyd Salmons When it comes to entertaining and special occasions, eco-minded consumers can be torn by two apparently conflicting desires: the need to be green and the easy clean-up made possible by disposable dishes. Thanks to a new innovation from VerTerra, however, that conflict can finally be put to rest. New York-based VerTerra offers a collection of single-use dinnerware including plates, bowls and platters made from pressed fallen leaves. Originally inspired by a technique used in rural India, VerTerra’s dishes are 100 percent renewable and made entirely from compostable plant matter and water, with none of the chemicals, waxes or dyes found in disposable paper and plastic options. VerTerra products are made in South Asia, where it ensures that employees have fair wages, safe working conditions and access to healthcare. After collecting the fallen leaves, the company applies steam, heat and pressure to transform them into products that are durable and versatile, and can be used in the microwave, oven or fridge. They biodegrade naturally in two months. Sold in packs of 10 or 12, VerTerra’s dishes are priced at roughly USD 1 per dish. Not only does VerTerra’s innovation solve a real consumer problem and protect the environment, it’s also a beautiful example of an eco-iconic solution that helps consumers spotlight their “greenness” for all the world to see. As we’ve said before, when it comes to green, subtlety is not a virtue—make it bold, make it different, make it obvious! Spotted by: Claudia Allwood Last year we wrote about Ridemakerz, a store that lets kids create their own toys in Build-A-Bear fashion, and now there’s a DIY equivalent for tweens focused on fashion. Fashionology LA is a brand-new Beverly Hills store that lets young fashionistas design and make their own clothes. Girls begin the design process as soon as they step into the store, which features an array of dazzling designs on the walls for inspiration. Using touch-screen Design Pads, they begin by selecting what type of garment they’d like to create, choosing from an assortment of tops, bottoms and dresses. From there they select a fashion “mood” onscreen—themes include Juku, Pop, Rock, Malibu and Peace, all of which include a colourful array of graphic images. They then pick embellishments for their garments, choosing from options including Sew It, Clip It, Bling It and Pin It. Once a girl completes her design, she proceeds to the U-Bar, where a friendly Fashionologist uses a heat press to add the key design element to her new look and gives her a tray of embellishments to take to the customized Make It table. The girl settles in to sew, bling, pin and clip, and when her garment is ready to wear, she steps in front of the camera to proudly display her creation. With her approval, the picture and her unique design will beam through the store on a 70-inch LCD screen and simultaneously be emailed to her so she can share her new look with her friends. Costs for the experience reportedly range between USD 20 and USD 90, depending on how elaborate the design is. Fashionology says it hopes to expand its brand nationwide by 2012. We’ve now written about DIY retail experiences in toys, clothes and wedding rings as well as an array of online ways to design your own clothes and handbags. It’s all part of the experience economy—with a healthy dose of the customer-made trend thrown in—and it’s going strong. Of course, tweens aren’t the only ones who’d love a chance to create their own duds with the assistance of some professionals. Next, how about a similar offering for grownups…? (Related: Sewing cafe in Berlin.) Spotted by: Maria Dahl Jørgensen Aiming to bring affordable luxury to modern travellers, a new hotel brand just opened its doors at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. citizenM (the M is for mobile) is targeting guests who view design as a given, need rooms that are comfortable and efficient, but can’t or don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars, euros or pounds for a night’s sleep. The hotel was founded by Rattan Chadha—who created fashion label Mexx and is also involved with Asian hotel group Oberoi—and designed by acclaimed Dutch architectural firm Concrete. Like Qbic, a Dutch hotel chain we covered last year, citizenM manufactures its rooms offsite to save time and money. Once the identical prefabs units have been shipped to a site, 240 rooms can be stacked up into a hotel in about 15 days, after which they’re hooked up to plumbing and electricity. Rooms are compact—just 14 square meters—but big windows and a smart layout ensure they don’t feel cramped. Brand partnerships include Vitra—the hotel is a veritable showroom for its iconic furniture—and Philips, which designed a ‘MoodPad’ that allows guests to regulate room temperature and lighting, adjust blinds, flip through TV channels and set alarms (including one that gently counts down from 100). Making up for small rooms that are mainly meant for sleeping and showering, citizenM features inviting common areas, including a self-serve deli selling sushi, salads, hot pasta, etc. To cut costs, the hotel doesn’t offer a full-service restaurant or room service. Guests handle their own check-in and check-out, which takes less than a minute. Room prices range from EUR 69–139, based on demand. The company plans to open 20 hotels across Europe, starting off with downtown Amsterdam, Glasgow and two locations in London. While it’s not the first no-frills chic hotel we’ve spotted, we’re sure travellers will welcome another brand that offers what Zara, JetBlue, Muji and Target offer—strong design and a good experience for a great price. Back in 2003, we wrote about M&M’s personalization service, which lets customers pick colours and have texts and logos printed on M&M’s. As we pointed out, it’s a great example of mass customization. And of what our sister-site dubbed gravanity. M&M’s has now taken the concept a step further by allowing customers to have their own likeness printed on the candy: M&M’s Faces. Ordering is done online: customers upload one or two photos, pick their colours and add up to two different texts to be printed on separate M&Ms. Using a simple interface, they can zoom in or out to select which part of a photo they want to use. A ‘graphic specialist’ then tweaks the photo file, creating a sketch-like rendition that looks good on small pieces of candy (example here). M&M’s Faces are available in 7-ounce bags at USD 14.95 per bag (minimum order: 3 bags); a 5- or 10-pound bulk box for USD 162.50 or USD 312.50; or a variety of 1.6- to 1.75-ounce party favours (minimum order: 20 bags), priced at USD 4.99–6.19 per bag. M&M’s hopes its new personalization option will entice even more customers to tell their stories using candy-coated chocolate, and to share their ultra-personal M&M’s at weddings, graduations and birthdays. Given that most people love to see themselves or their loved ones in print, that seems like a pretty safe bet. 😉 P.S. We’ve covered dozens of businesses that cater to consumers’ gravanity. Check them out here.