Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Micro-blogging service Twitter and London’s Royal Opera House may not be seen as birds of a feather. Founded hundreds of years apart, one represents a stronghold of traditional high culture, the other the fizzing surface of contemporary communication. But the tendency of culture to respond to new technology should never be underestimated—over the past three weeks the ROH has been using Twitter to crowdsource the libretto for a new “people’s opera”. “The Twitter Opera” is to be performed as part of the ROH’s Deloitte Ignite Festival at the beginning of September. The libretto will consist entirely of 140-character tweets that the ROH has received from members of the public since the project was launched. It will be set to original music composed by Helen Porter, along with some more familiar classics. Simply put, the goal is to help attract a wider audience. Alison Duthie of the ROH summed this up: “It’s the people’s opera and the perfect way for everyone to become involved with the inventiveness of opera as the ultimate form of storytelling.” The plot, which is now complete, begins—fittingly—with a man being kidnapped by a flock of birds. We’ve featured a number of Twitter-friendly endeavours on Springwise, from package tracking to wine tasting. This pioneering effort by a cultural icon shows that there are equally novel opportunities in the arts. In the collective imagination, great ideas can take flight—and can also be a valuable feather in one’s publicity cap. For more on how organisations are using Twitter to converse and create with their audience, check out trendwatching.com’s briefing on foreverism. (Related: Wiki publisher for collaborative writingPublisher hopes crowds will spot next bestsellerLive opera on the silver screen.) Twitter: www.twitter.com/youropera Spotted by: Jim Stewart Smart recruiters are increasingly recognizing that resumes just aren’t enough to predict success in a job. Much the way MedRecruit incorporates lifestyle into the hiring picture and CareerTours uses video storytelling, KODA is a new site that aims to provide social recruiting capabilities that are “more professional than Facebook but more personal than LinkedIn.” Launched in late May, KODA allows emerging talent and smart companies to go beyond the resume or traditional job posting with employer and employee profiles that allow both sides of the hiring equation to get to know each other. Currently free to use during its beta period, the site allows users to post photos, PDFs and videos along with the information about their education, skills and experience that would normally be part of a hiring profile. Rather than providing long lists of opportunities, KODA focuses instead on matching talent with the right career and the right organization. Toward that end, it uses a recommendation engine to suggest connections that may be worth exploring. Specific opportunities get pulled from employers’ internal career pages for highlighting on the site, and companies can also give prospective employees a “look inside” their organization. Illustrative “compatibility bars,” meanwhile, indicate the compatibility between an individual and an opportunity or organization based on historical information, profile content and other criteria. As users look through KODA, they can send messages or bookmark profiles for future viewing. They can also “wave” at a particular organization that they would like to stay in contact with, causing a notification to be sent to that employer. Based in San Francisco—but with another branch to serve the transformation currently going on in New Orleans—KODA is also planning to add more functionality in the near future, including additional ways to publish opportunities, advanced search capabilities and printable KODA profiles. One to partner with and bring to the hiring front near you…? Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Most sports fans have probably dreamt of scoring the winning goal for their national team. Now, thanks to a new UK enterprise, Be A Football Hero, football / soccer fans have the chance to hear a true-to-life commentary of that dream game, with themselves in the starring role. Designed as a gift experience, this product is reminiscent of the personalised radio shows we featured last year. A key difference, though, is that Be A Football Hero’s commentaries can be previewed and ordered within moments. Choosing from a range of options, users select which competition they’d like to play in (World Cup, Champions League, FA Cup or Premiership title game), and then add their name, age, favourite team and the team they want to beat. The automatically generated commentary, featuring professional impressions of top British commentators John Motson, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson, can then be streamed from the site. If they like what they hear, users can order the recording on CD with a personalised greeting card, plus an instant MP3 download, all for GBP 14.99. Commentaries recreate the climax of the game and are approximately two minutes long. Be A Football Hero was developed by Voice Express, which also sells talking ringtones. In addition to soccer, the company has plans for personalised cricket, snooker, F1, racing and tennis commentaries. Since creating a realistic faux commentary requires knowledge and attention to local details—commentators, teams, lingo—this seems like one to set up for sports fans in your part of the world. Spotted by: Paul Bisceglia Travellers planning a trip can already tap a variety of sites for creating guides and itineraries, including TripIt, Offbeat Guides and Tripwolf—to name just a few. Focusing more on travellers’ own search process, however—specifically, the time they spend scouring the web for ideas—comes Gliider, a Firefox plug-in aimed at organizing all the best results in a single, online place. Now in invitation-only beta, Brooklyn-based Gliider is essentially a digital file that lets travellers keep track of all the interesting ideas they come across while researching and planning a trip. Users begin by downloading the application, causing the Gliider icon to appear in their Firefox browser bar. (Currently, Gliider works on Firefox 3, but support for Explorer, Safari and Chrome are coming soon, the company says.) When they’re surfing the web and come across a hotel, restaurant or photo they want to remember as they make their plans, they need only click the icon and Gliider drops down on the right-hand side of the browser. Into that window they can then simply drag and drop whatever it was they wanted to save, creating a neater, more organized alternative to a list of bookmarks. Users can share their trip files with up to four other users, and they can also create a summary travel document PDF for emailing and printing. Perhaps most interesting of all is that Gliider tracks deals on hotels relevant to a specific trip and allows users to take advantage of them in a single click. Through a partnership with Expedia, Gliider currently earns revenue from affiliate fees when users click on the deals it presents to book a hotel, according to TechCrunch. Coming soon are deals on flights too, as well as an iPhone application and an “ask around” feature that taps Facebook. Hospitality entrepreneurs: one to get in on—or emulate—early…? Spotted by: Carmen Magar For all but the most organized consumers, greeting cards are something that tend to get purchased in a hurry when a special occasion looms. Jack Cards—which we covered a couple of years ago—uses a prescheduled service to remove some of that haste and help customers get their cards out on time, and now TOTA Press takes a slightly different approach by offering unique, handmade cards by monthly subscription. New York-based TOTA’s subscription service is essentially a card-of-the-month program whereby subscribers get two copies of a one-time, handmade card sent to their door each month. Photos of each new letterpressed design are posted on TOTA’s website on the first of the month along with a description of what inspired it; August’s, for example, is based on an Asanoha pattern. The handmade cards are all standard sizes that can be used for any occasion with no extra postage required. Prices range from USD 13 for a trial subscription of one month to USD 140 for a 12-month subscription, amounting to 24 cards in all. Domestic shipping is included in the price of the subscription, but international orders cost an extra USD 2 per month. In an era when greeting cards are increasingly combined with digital elements—such as in CD-equipped Burney Cards, which we just covered last week—it’s interesting to see an offering that takes what’s almost the opposite approach, revelling instead in the physical richness and artistry of a handmade card. Reminds us, in fact, of the hand-drawn A la Carte Maps that we also just recently covered. The world may be digital, everyone may be online, but there’s still plenty of room for the handmade, the unique, the personal, the still-made-here offline design. Combine that with the convenience of home delivery, and you may just cause some pangs of anxiety in the Hallmark boardroom! 😉 Fitness enthusiasts already know that goals can be much easier to achieve for those with a workout buddy to help them stay motivated. With that premise in mind, Comotivate aims to help users succeed in attaining a variety of goals by pairing them with motivation ‘buddies’ who share the same objectives. Now in beta, Australian Comotivate focuses on collaboration as a route to success in achieving life goals. When users register with the social networking site, they provide information including a key objective they’re hoping to achieve—losing weight, for example, or quitting smoking. Comotivate then uses its database to match user profiles, creating team buddies who resemble each other as closely as possible. Those buddies can then create personal pages and set deadlines for achieving their goals. They can also share video, images and encouragement to track their progress and help each other along the way. Inactive users on the free site are “benched” to minimize the number of lurkers and maximize the proportion of engaged, committed people. Users can always change their goals and buddy teams, but when they achieve a set objective—success is simply self-reported—they are awarded a certificate in PDF. While it’s not yet clear what Comotivate’s business model will be, it is planning a relaunch at the end of this year, and we’d be surprised if some sort of targeted ad support isn’t involved. Comotivate also hopes to translate its site into other languages in the near future, as well as optimizing it for mobile devices. One to try out, partner with, or otherwise get involved in…? (Related: Community for tracking life experiencesA public incentive to stick to one’s goalsNagging service for dieters.) Spotted by: Edward Baral If vintners can conduct wine tastings via Twitter, it stands to reason that restaurants could do much the same thing to promote their foods. Which is just where TasteCasting comes in, facilitating the use of social media for taste tests and other promotional events to help restaurateurs get tongues wagging about them throughout the socially networked world. Ohio-based TasteCasting draws upon teams of socially connected bloggers, Twitterers, Flickr users and YouTubers in cities across North America—there are currently 20 with active teams, and more are already forming. Restaurants, cafes and other food service establishments in any of the cities the company serves can host tasting events at which local team members will “taste, tweet, and then repeat,” broadcasting their experience of the restaurant across their social media platforms. Specifically, TasteCasting teams post stories, videos and pictures of each event to the TasteCasting site, and each team member adds comments and includes links to their blogs, photos and videos on the TasteCasting profile for that establishment. Grand openings, new menu items and special offers can all be publicized using TasteCasting in exchange for just a complimentary tasting and tour. Currently there is no charge to restaurants and no compensation for tasters, but TasteCasting says it may ultimately consider rolling out an advertising profit sharing opportunity for tasters interested in becoming independent agents. TasteCasting is looking for sponsorship from major suppliers of food products, equipment, supplies and services. Alternatively, could be one to partner with in food-loving cities around the world—starting with, say, Paris…? 😉 (Related: Foodie podcast highlights curbside cuisineFood blogger turned intermediary and purveyorWine tastings via Twitter.) Spotted by: Jim Stewart We’ve written about a number of microfinance organizations in recent years, including not just oft-cited Kiva but also Wokai and Jolkona. Whereas those ventures all strive to help entrepreneurs in the developing world by facilitating direct microloans and donations, however, California-based nonprofit United Prosperity is taking a different approach by focusing on providing loan guarantees instead. A traditional microloan or donation of USD 100 delivers roughly that same amount to the entrepreneur in need, but providing a loan guarantee of the same amount can result in a much larger loan from a local bank, United Prosperity says—as much as USD 666, in this case. How it works: Potential guarantors browse the United Prosperity site, which features a number of prescreened entrepreneurs in developing countries. They then choose one to help, and contribute a loan guarantee of any amount through PayPal. United Prosperity then consolidates the guarantees on multiple loans for the microfinance partner involved and issues a guarantee, which is deposited as collateral with the local bank. With the assurance of that collateral, the bank is then willing to lend funds—the amount depending on the guarantee percentage it requires—to the microfinance institution, which in turn lends to the individual entrepreneur who was supported. The guarantor can track the entrepreneur’s progress building their business, and when the entrepreneur repays the loan, the funds are returned to the guarantor’s PayPal account. United Prosperity, meanwhile, earns interest on guarantee funds; it’s also considering charging its partners a small fee for providing the guarantee. Now in beta, United Prosperity cites many advantages to providing loan guarantees rather than simple p2p loans: the process allows recipients to develop a credit history, making future loans easier to obtain; it reduces the interest rates banks charge the microfinance institutions involved; and it better manages risk while providing a more scalable model. So far, 111 guarantors have used the site to help 105 entrepreneurs with more than USD 11,000 in guarantees. One to partner with, emulate, or otherwise get involved in…? For some knitwear enthusiasts, the best sweaters, socks and hats are those someone knits for you—perhaps even one of Golden Hook‘s knitting grannies. For others, however, there’s just nothing like the gratification of doing it yourself. Enter Wool and the Gang, a Swiss venture that sells all-in-one kits complete with everything that’s needed to make a particular knit design. Fourteen kits comprise Wool and the Gang’s do-it-yourself line, each complete with the necessary yarn, a pair of wooden knitting needles, a pattern, a sewing needle and patches. Sweaters, scarves, hats and bags are all among the designs represented, each labelled according to its difficulty level, and a series of video tutorials is even available on the site for those in need of some extra guidance. Peruvian wool and cotton yarn kits are both available in a choice of colours at prices ranging from EUR 55 to EUR 159. Wool and the Gang also sells yarn and ready-made knitwear; its kits are available at Net-a-Porter as well. While knitting kits aren’t new, Wool and the Gang is targeting a specific niche: style-sensitive people who are new to knitting. Its tone and aesthetics clearly play to a crowd that also buys from American Apparel. And there’s something satisfying about a kit that includes everything in one convenient package. It’s much the same premise that’s behind the stylish Safety Box, for example, as well as just about any starter kit under the sun. Pick your style, throw in a little video instruction, and you can tap into a whole new audience. Spotted by: Karitas Travellers looking for city maps and advice face an overwhelming array of alternatives, all competing with a slightly different approach. Whereas recent entrants such as Tripwolf, Offbeat Guides and TripIt all strive to provide some tailored package representing the best of what’s on the web, however, a new Swiss startup aims to focus instead on what a local friend might say, presented artistically with hand-drawn notes. Launched earlier this month, A la Carte Maps are designed to combine guidebook, tourist map and original art in one. Currently available for six cities—Barcelona, Munich, Zurich, Shangai, Tokyo and Washington, DC—A la Carte Maps present an array of each city’s best-kept insider tips on a beautiful, 70-by-42-cm, hand-drawn map. An accompanying welcome letter provides key information about the city in question, such as where to exchange money, how to get around, what to do on a rainy day, etc., while access to a comprehensive city database—provided with each purchase—adds even more insider information as well as the ability to create a customised itinerary. In addition to its curated “My City à la Carte” maps, A la Carte also allows seasoned travellers to create their own, customised maps of a city with their own notes and artwork. Both types of map are ad-free and matt-laminated, and are priced at EUR 8.90; A la Carte donates 10 percent of the profits from each map to a social project in the city it represents. Maps have always been an essential tool for travellers of every kind, but in this era of technology-enabled mapmania, they are the focus of perhaps more attention than ever before. With its unconventionally personal and hand-crafted approach, A la Carte could stand out amid the sea of web-focused competitors. Where else could a low-tech and artistic approach provide a compelling alternative…? Spotted by: Yuan