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As the news industry has struggled to redefine itself in recent years, it seems fair to say that the majority of the new approaches we’ve seen tested out have focused on incorporating the work and views of citizen reporters. A new online publication recently launched in Australia, however, takes quite a different tack by placing the spotlight on academic and research experts instead. Now in beta, The Conversation bills itself as “an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the university and research sector.” Rather than pursuing the traditional journalist’s goal of objective reporting, The Conversation aims instead to foster informed dialogue and debate by giving thought leaders in the academic and research communities a forum for their perspectives on big, central topics. A team of professional editors works with experts to ensure that content is accessible to a broad audience. With a heavy emphasis on creating trust, meanwhile, the site also pledges to ensure that all published reports make explicit the authors’ expertise, any potential conflicts of interest, and sources of funding. Current content partners include the Australian Group of Eight universities (Adelaide, ANU, Melbourne, Monash, NSW, Queensland, Sydney, Western Australia) plus the University of Technology at Sydney, CSIRO and the Australian Science Media Centre. The Conversation also plans to keep its forum uncluttered by eschewing pop-up and display advertising; rather, it will operate as a not-for-profit, educational and charitable organization. Now that the content-creating masses have so many news outlets in which to have their say as citizen journalists, is it experts’ turn to take a leading role in the discussion? Time will tell. Either way, one to watch! (Related: CNN ‘Open Stories’ combine citizen journalism and professional reportingCrowdfunding (and pitching) news storiesNews site lets users pick stories & share in revenues.) As bands and labels continue to fight against the current downturn in the music industry, we recently found an example of a band really upping the ante. Norweigan dance rockers DATAROCK have just released their new “single”, which comes in the form of a designer toy loaded with a wealth of extra media. The 3 inch figurine, designed by Brian Flynn at Super 7, comes in the shape of a small red diamond with arms, legs and a face. The toy’s treasure, however, is concealed within, in the form of a small DATAROCK USB pen. This pen contains DATAROCK’s new single “Catcher In The Rye”, the new EP “California”, 1500 photos, a 60 minute concert film, 20 music videos and 105 bonus tracks, and is retailing at USD 50. We’ve seen many bands and labels innovating online to try and combat the perceived threat to their industry. However, there is plenty of inspiration to be taken from those attempting something truly new in the offline space. One to be inspired by! (Related: Platform connects bands and brands for sponsorship dealsMagazine on vinyl LPs features short stories read aloudFive new business ideas for musicians and their fans.) Spotted by: Sindre Holme Urban chicken farming has been featured on our virtual pages on several occasions already, including Rentachook’s “try before you buy” approach and Just Us Hens’ chicken-sitting service. The latest spotting? Eggzy, a Philadelphia-based site that aims to help promote home-based and small-scale egg farming in the United States. Now in beta, Eggzy says its mission is “to aggregate backyard chicken flocks so neighborhoods can always find fresh local eggs.” Toward that end, it offers tools to help small-scale flock owners manage their backyard chickens and even create an online egg stand for sharing their production with others. Flock owners can track their egg production using the geo-enabled site as well as share stats, photos and egg availability with their friends and neighbors. By removing some of the burden from large-scale food production and distribution networks, Eggzy says, home chicken farming can restore a sense of place to the food system — what we’d call (still) made here appeal — while increasing food safety and reliability and reducing carbon emissions. Currently more than 550 hens from almost 30 flocks are listed on the site, which is free for use by U.S. flock owners as well as egg lovers in search of a local source. A concept to emulate in other parts of the world? (Related: Site connects producers and buyers of local food.) The inevitable replacement of ‘snail mail’ by free, instant online communication has seen postal operators around the world struggling to maintain relevance. However, in Denmark at least, the post office is not giving up without a fight, with hopes that digitizing their stamp system and enabling mobile payment will modernize the service. Launching this Friday, users of the new service will text the word “PORTO” to 1900, receiving a confirmation text in reply along with a string of numbers and letters. These numbers and letters can then be written on the envelope as way of payment, rather than using a stamp, according to a report on Deutsche Welle. The service is currently only available for domestic mail inside Denmark and for letters up to 50g, with the codes remaining active for 7 days. The text stamps will cost the same as a normal domestic first class stamp at DKK 8, plus the cost of sending the text, according to the BBC. This charge will then be drawn from the user’s phone bill. The BBC also quote Henrik Larson, head of private customers at Post Denmark, saying that the service will not lead to the removal of the traditional stamp service: “We will, of course, still keep the Danish stamp tradition alive as the stamp adds qualities to a letter”. A similar service is already in place in Germany, and there rumors of a potential introduction of the service in Sweden as well. Could you be using mobile payments to speed up and modernize your services? (Related: Personalised stamps (or Licking the back of your own face)Wishing you a merry personalised ChristmasMobile payment app verifies identity with a photo.) Spotted by: Katherine Noyes Pop-up retail is a trend we’ve been covering for years, but it wasn’t until recently that we had seen it put to work for software. Sure enough though, part of Danish software firm Podio’s strategy for publicly launching its online work platform last week was a pop-up store on the streets of San Francisco. Podio — whose social platform lets professional workers create their own work tools — entered private beta back in September. With more than 200 business applications now available for free in the Podio App Store, the service is priced at USD 99 per month for up to 25 users. Podio supports English, French, Spanish, German and Danish. Just last week, however, Podio made its official debut to the public, marked by a pop-up store on San Francisco’s 6th St. dedicated to that purpose. A variety of events were organized at the store last week to mark the occasion, including a Work 2.0 Hack Day, a promotional Lunch 2.0 and a Scandinavian networking event. The store will remain open for “the coming weeks”, Podio says, serving as a focal point for workshops, networking and press events during the platform’s launch period. All the world may be online, but there’s still plenty to be said for foot traffic and the ability to make a personal impression. What has your brand done with pop-up retail lately? (Related: Collaborative pop-up store focuses on eco-friendly goodsOnline portal connects all those involved in pop-up retailNationwide network of pop-up marketing spaces.) We’ve covered numerous innovations designed to enliven and re-imagine the picnic experience, from balloon delivered pizza picnics to picnics on snow covered mountain slopes. Now, however, Butler For Hire is aiming to make the traditional picnic altogether less stressful. Netherlands-based Butler For Hire’s service runs from April to August in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Upon receiving a booking, a butler is sent to the park to set up the picnic, consisting of crystal glasses, picnic rugs, china crockery, pillows, and a menu of hams, cheeses, breads, jams, chicken legs, salads and wine. All of this is available for EUR 30 per person. For those who like to picnic in style, extras are available at an additional charge, such as Prosecco, champagne, lobster, oysters, prawns, shrimps and salmon. Once the picnickers have put aside their desire for food and drink and are ready to go home, a phone call to Butler For Hire signals it is time for the butler to return and clear up. In addition to the picnics, Butler For Hire can provide dinner and breakfast services, providing the same level of personal care at home. Services such as these can often leave the user with a sense of exclusivity and elevated status, which carries huge appeal. How could you offer a premium brand butler service to boost your attractiveness to those craving a little personal care? Celebrants at outdoor events can already enjoy Sky Orbs as a relatively eco-friendly demonstration of exuberance, but recently we came across another — and perhaps even eco-friendlier — alternative: Butterflies, raised sustainably by Spanish Mariposeando specifically to add an element of natural beauty to special occasions large and small. At prices ranging from EUR 20 for two butterflies in individual boxes to EUR 935 for 100, Mariposeando offers live, carefully protected Monarch Butterflies shipped via express delivery for release at special occasions and events. Boxes are designed to keep each butterfly safe and in good condition; when it comes time to release them, customers simply open the boxes and watch the butterflies flutter into the sky. In addition to helping to protect Monarch Butterflies from species decline, the sustainability-focused project provides employment for individuals with mental and physical handicaps, it says. A project of Wild Urban Life, Mariposeando also offers educational kits for children and schools as well as butterfly colonies to order for residential backyards. Time to bring a little sustainable beauty and grace to celebrations in your part of the world? Spotted by: Petz Scholtus Regular readers of Springwise may remember our article on Typeface, the personalized font creator designed by Mary Huang. Now we’ve discovered Huang’s latest efforts have lead her away from typography and into the world of fashion, though still with an emphasis on personalization. Continuum is her new fashion label of “computational couture”, based entirely on user-generated design. Visitors to the Continuum website are presented with a sketch of an unclothed woman in need of a dress. The visitor can then “draw” a dress of their own design onto the sketched woman, and watch as a three dimensional version of their creation appears alongside her. When the user is happy with the dress, they can place an order to have the dress made and delivered once Continuum is fully functional. Alternatively, users can choose to download the cutting patterns, which are automatically generated by the Continuum software, and try to make the dresses themselves. The design software builds the dresses — dubbed “D-Dresses” — out of triangular planes, making it possible to explode the initial drawings into three-dimensional dresses, and, Huang hopes, lending even the most amateur artist’s creations an avant-garde aesthetic. Currently the dress designs are only available in black. However, before Huang can refine the design software and set up to go into full production, she is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, hoping to reach USD 15,000. In exchange for funding, backers can receive a host of rewards, including their own Continuum dress. As customization and personalization continue to grow in popularity amongst consumers, how could you let your audience make their mark on your product or service? (Related: Organic cotton fabrics designed for crafting and quiltingFive (more) businesses selling personalized products.) Spotted by: Katherine Noyes Couples in troubled relationships can already turn to the crowds for help resolving their disputes, as we noted a few years ago. A newer option, however, is to use technology to help prevent such disagreements from ever arising. That’s the premise behind Tokii, which bills itself as the world’s first relationship management platform. Now in beta, Canadian Tokii is a free site that aims to help couples improve their relationships in a playful, easy way through interactive tools and games. The site’s TradingPost tool, for example, helps couples negotiate for what they want — a back rub, say, in exchange for help washing the car — helping to ensure that neither side ends up feeling put upon. MoodMeter helps each partner stay attuned to the other’s mood, while the LoveZone Quiz helps them discover the best ways to make each other feel loved. The site explains: “All products are focused on using the digital space to further deepen relationship communication and experiences that put play into everyday activities.” Military-class security, meanwhile, keeps everything private. After winning the Maple Leaf Digital Lounge’s Best Canadian Startup Award at South By Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) earlier this month, Tokii is now working on more games for the site as well as a mobile app. Nowadays, it takes a real dose of creativity to create originality in the crowded online space, but for the time being, Tokii is offering something truly different. (Related: Philips expands line of massagers for couples.) Sustainable and reclaimed building materials have been featured on our virtual pages numerous times in recent years, but never before have we had occasion to write about something so seemingly esoteric from the architectural world as a “space truss geometry.” Until now, that is. Israeli designer Dror Benshetrit recently unveiled a new design for just such a thing, with the potential to change the way buildings, bridges, furniture and even emergency shelters are built. Dubbed QuaDror, Benshetrit’s building-block design consists of four identical L-shaped pieces attached through corner hinges in such a way as to allow them to either sit together flat or open outward into an attractive trestle-like shape. Building blocks featuring the QuaDror design are remarkable not just for their visual appearance and versatility, but also for their superlative structural strength and sound-buffering capabilities. Some applications take advantage of the design’s load-bearing power — using it as the support for a bridge, for example, or a modular component in buildings — while others make use of its acoustic properties, such as for sound barriers along highways. The design can also be used as an element in works of art. QuaDror’s ease of manufacturing, collapsibility and energy performance, meanwhile, make it particularly promising for use in low-cost emergency shelters. Now based in New York, Benshetrit has already designed such a kit “QuaDror Home,” 1,750 of which can fit in one 40-foot container; the first of them are slated to be deployed in Brazil and Sierra Leone by 2012, according to a report on Fast Company. After debuting QuaDror last month at the Design Indaba show in Cape Town, Benshetrit now seeks partners and licensing deals in a range of fields to help bring the patented innovation to market. One to get involved in for the application of your choice? (Related: Eco-drywall made of recycled materials Eco houses snap together using Lego-style blocksOnline library of green building materials.) Spotted by: Zachary Love