Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

There’s no doubt consumers love free samples, as evidenced by all the tryvertising stores, services and even vending machines we’ve seen emerge in recent months. The latest spotting? Raffle Dog, a site that raffles off free, vendor-sponsored products. Launched this past spring, New York-based Raffle Dog offers different raffles every week for local and national companies. Brands begin by signing up with Raffle Dog—it’s free through today. Consumers can then participate in any raffle, with the option of entering three times: once by simply commenting on the Raffle Dog page, another time by sharing the raffle on Facebook, and a third time by sharing via Twitter. Raffle Dog also taps Twitter to give followers the opportunity to participate in secret raffles as well. Raffle Dog itself, meanwhile, promotes each raffle on the streets, handing out flyers in targeted locations; it also hosts a YouTube video on its site showcasing the vendor’s product or service. When the raffle draws to a close, Raffle Dog emulates the contests of the past by picking its winners live online from a fishbowl filled with tickets. Winners are notified via email, Twitter or Facebook and have seven days to claim their prize, which gets mailed out directly. Raffle Dog donates 5 percent of its earnings to cancer-related charities. Currently, however, it’s open only to U.S. consumers. One to bring to a market near you? (Related: Free products for bloggers at invitation-only events.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Much the way Catalista connects would-be volunteers with opportunities by mobile phone, so Sparked by The Extraordinaries aims to enable “micro-volunteering,” whereby philanthropists with a few minutes of free time can use it to make a difference. Currently in private limited beta, San Francisco-based The Extraordinaries is an online platform that seeks to make it easy for altruistic consumers to support an organization or cause they care about. Toward that end, it enlists both individuals and groups of company employees to contribute their expertise to a nonprofit in even the smallest chunks of time. Nonprofits begin by posting requests to the site; those, in turn, are routed to would-be volunteers based on their skills and interests. Examples might include translating a page of a document into Spanish, for instance, or helping to choose a new logo; The Extraordinaries even has pre-built “kits” that turn a series of best practices into tasks for volunteers. Willing volunteers then complete the requests during a spare moment via iPhone (through a dedicated app) or web browser—or they can share it with their colleagues. Either way, corporate team volunteers can track each others’ efforts via a Team Activity feed. Current nonprofit users of The Extraordinaries include KaBOOM!—which we’ve covered before—and Big Cat Rescue. The Extraordinaries is in the process of becoming a B Corp.; its business model will eventually include charging organizations a fee for each task completed, according to a report on NPR. Social entrepreneurs around the globe: time to make micro-volunteering your new best friend…? (Related: iPhone app lets users earn cash for small tasksWork site divides large jobs into small, concurrent tasksQuick tasks via SMS for phone users in the developing worldJob marketplace for quick online tasks.) Spotted by: Cecilia Biemann Now that mobile phones are ubiquitous, public phone booths are fast becoming obsolete. In a bid to find a viable new use for its 13,500 phone booths around the country, Telekom Austria has begun converting them into battery recharging stations for electric cars, scooters and motorbikes. Unveiling its first phone booth-turned-recharging station in front of the company’s Vienna headquarters in May, Telekom Austria announced plans to convert an additional 29 phone booths by the end of this year. During the initial trial period, recharging is free. The company eventually plans to charge a single-digit euro sum for the recharging service, with payments to be made via mobile phone. Telekom Austria’s forward-thinking scheme comes at a time when, of the total 4.36 million cars on Austrian roads, there are only 223 electric cars and 3,559 hybrid cars registered. Yet the Austrian motor vehicle association, VOeC, predicts that the number of electric vehicles in Austria will rise to 405,000 by 2020. Telecommunications companies around the globe: a leap into the widely forecast EV-prevalent future worth following? (Related: Charging infrastructure for electric vehiclesFree car charging at new, greener McDonalds.) Spotted by:  Cecilia Biemann Mapping is an application to which the crowds are eminently well-suited, geographically dispersed as they tend to be. Not only have we seen the masses contributing to maps of hot music gigs and filming locations, but now they’re helping to create a map of San Francisco’s urban forest too. Now in beta, The Urban Forest Map is “a collaboration of government, nonprofits, businesses and you to map every tree in San Francisco,” in the project’s own words. Starting with a database from public records, the project aims to communicate the value of the urban forest and engage communities in creating greener, more livable urban environments. Toward that end, citizen participants can not only search for particular types of trees in the San Francisco area, they can also add new ones that haven’t yet been mapped by simply putting a dot on the map where they’re located and then providing as much information about them as they can, including photos and factors such as species, size and trunk diameter. Citizens can verify the facts about the trees near them as well, updating as necessary to help track changes as the urban forest grows. The information added to the Urban Forest Map will be used by urban forest managers, landscape architects and planners to estimate future growth and planting opportunities, improve wildlife habitat, maximize ecosystem services, and grow a strong and healthy urban forest. Perhaps even more interesting, however, is that for each and every tree, the Urban Forest Map taps a US Forest Service model to calculate the environmental benefits it’s providing: how many gallons of stormwater it’s helping to filter, how many pounds of air pollutants it’s capturing, how many kilowatt-hours of energy it’s conserving and how many tons of carbon dioxide it’s removing from the atmosphere. The open-source project is available for use by any community; time to start “missing” the forest for the trees near you….? 😉 Spotted by: Anna Brones Stock art subscription services have been around for some time, but earlier this year Getty Images introduced Thinkstock, which offers millions of select royalty-free images, vectors and illustrations from multiple providers. Now, Thinkstock is testing Social Art Buyer, a service that uses Twitter to help subscribers find the images they need. Thinkstock brings together more than 5 million user-generated and professionally art-directed images from Seattle-based Getty Images, iStockphoto and Jupiterimages. Priced at USD 149 for a week, USD 249 for a month or USD 199 per month for an annual subscription, Thinkstock lets subscribers download up to 25 images a day or 750 images a month; legal protection against copyright claims is included. Now, with the Social Art Buyer service, users can submit an image request to @Thinkstock. The Thinkstock team will then begin by checking the Thinkstock library for a match; if it’s not there, they’ll look outside for an image that fits the requester’s needs. It seems fair to say that once a product array is established—whether it’s the books on Amazon or the images on Thinkstock—the next step is curation and/or help zeroing in on the right ones. Most sites focus on improved search algorithms, but personalized search services could be a compelling option. One to try out or emulate for your own overwhelmed consumers…? (Related: Marketplace for custom advertising images.) Spotted by: Rosalie Berns There’s no shortage of bath and body products made with organic ingredients or otherwise positioned as earth and human friendly. Hoping to stand out in that increasingly crowded marketplace, a new German company is taking things a step further: instead of a regular brand name, it operates under a message: Stop The Water While Using Me. Stop The Water currently sells shampoo (EUR 13) and shower gel (EUR 12) through its online store, with toothpaste in the works (EUR 8). All products are made with organic and/or natural ingredients, packaged in biodegradable containers, and manufactured with sustainability in mind. But the standout feature is that message, reminding people to switch off the tap while lathering up. Managed by ad executive Stefan Kolle, Hamburg-based Stop The Water was shortlisted for a 2010 Cannes Lion and is currently seeking retailers to sell its products. Whether or not you sell bath products, the concept of message-as-brand is worth a brainstorm. (Related: Smart devices help households monitor their energy use.) Spotted by: NOTCOT The crowds are increasingly being recruited to offer advice on everything from outfits to marital disputes, as we’ve already noted before, and recently we came across yet another example. Opinionaided is a platform that allows users to get opinions in real time from friends, family and the public. While its website is still in private beta,* Opinionaided has already been up and running as a free iPhone app since early last month. Wherever it’s used, the service lets users solicit advice from their own contacts and the public on widely ranging topics such as the fit of a pair of jeans, the value of a home, the quality of a new movie or a personal creation. Questions and accompanying photos are presented in rapid fire, and users place their votes in thumbs-up or thumbs-down fashion, with comments tabulated and stored in a personal section for review. Monetization plans include market research services, with branded questions intertwined in the voting stream, according to Kurani Interactive, the platform’s New Jersey-based creator. Do the crowds like giving and receiving personal advice? Survey says “thumbs-up.” Another one to watch! (Related: The wisdom of the crowds, tailored to expecting parentsMore dispute resolution, courtesy of the crowdsSocial search engine taps contacts for subjective answers.) * Want to check out the site before its official launch? Springwise readers can get a sneak peek by using access code thumbsup. Major sports teams and the cities they hail from are essentially two sides of the same coin, which is why team rivalries and city rivalries tend to be one and the same. Aiming to tap into some of that local pride, the Pittsburgh Pirates have begun featuring local musicians for entertainment during their home games. The Pirates kicked off their local music initiative in April, starting with hometown band the Aviation Blondes. Each band featured gets a song played during the sixth-inning break while its name and song title are displayed on the Jumbotron. All songs are currently hand-picked by Eric Wolff, the Pirates’ manager of in-game presentations, though ultimately we wouldn’t be surprised to see the effort expanded to include community voting and the preference of the local crowds. In the meantime, however, teams, museums and other local institutions: imagine all the local music, food and other (still) made here entertainment you could incorporate into your own crowd-pleasing (and cross-promotional) efforts… ! (Related: Giant-screen social games for crowds at large eventsGrass with a story: New York Yankees seed and sod.) Spotted by: Pittsburgh City Paper via Jim Stewart The locavore movement may be focusing new interest on locally produced food, but regional farmers, ranchers and fishermen continue to struggle to find a market for their products. That’s as true in the Pacific Northwest as everywhere else, which is why Portland, Ore., nonprofit Ecotrust created FoodHub. Launched late last year, FoodHub aims to increase food trade in the Pacific Northwest by connecting food buyers of all types and sizes with local farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food manufacturers. For food sellers, FoodHub offers an easy way to let buyers know what products are available and how to make contact to complete a sale. For food buyers—including local restaurants, public schools, grocery stores, caterers, universities and hospitals—FoodHub provides a robust database of food products that are available. Customizable search features allow a buyer to hone in on the exact product specifications they’re seeking — “pallet quantities of Northwest-grown certified organic black eyed peas,” for example. After paying an annual membership fee of USD 100, both buyers and sellers can create detailed online profiles; FoodHub’s message center, meanwhile, streamlines communications. Deborah Kane, vice president of Ecotrust’s Food & Farms program, explains:“FoodHub is designed to be a one-stop-shop for the chef who needs six dozen artichokes for a menu special, the baker looking for a local source for flour, or the large institutional food buyer whose purchasing power could significantly stabilize a family farm.” Currently, FoodHub is open to food buyers and sellers of all types in Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. However, Ecotrust intends to make the FoodHub platform available to qualified partners in other parts of the country as well. One to emulate in other parts of the world? Spotted by: Anna Brones If crowdsourcing can be used to help tackle economic problems in Ireland—not to mention those of the more personal kind—then why not the global environmental imperative? That, indeed, is just the aim of the Globe Forum, which hopes to use crowdsourcing to help people around the world build a more sustainable future. Now in beta, Stockholm-based Globe Forum operates conferences and an active online community to help match the creators of good ideas with those who can help bring them to life. Specifically, the organization hopes to bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, corporations and the public sector in a natural space “where breakthrough solutions can occur collaboratively,” as the site puts it. Its matchmaking service, for instance, aims to match supply and demand for sustainable solutions, with expert facilitation, consulting and project management by the Globe Forum organization. Its intelligence arm, meanwhile, strives to provide market-leading research, industry insight and access to innovation. A crowdfunding section lets potential investors browse through promising new project ideas and fund the ones they like, while projects and organizations with sustainability challenges to be solved can post those in Globe Forum’s “Challenges” section for a little collective brainstorming. After hosting a conference in Stockholm this spring, Globe Forum’s next large-scale event will take place in Dublin in November. Anyone out there still doubt the power of the Global Brain? We didn’t think so. Sustainability entrepreneurs: this one’s for you! Spotted by: Johan Lofmark