Around 100 times a day, a message lands in Reinier Evers' In box, bearing the promise of something new and cool. Sometimes the sender is describing a product that's suddenly generating local buzz, like lipstick-size aromatherapy tubes in New Zealand or cone-shaped pizza in Italy. Other times it's an innovative retail concept, like customized-candy shops in Australia or American T-shirt "delis" where designs are personalized like sandwiches. The correspondence comes in from trendspotters everywhere--a coffee shop in Istanbul or a library in Taipei--all part of Evers' network of more than 7,000 volunteers, most of whom have never met--and will never meet--their boss. "I call this effect the global brain," says Evers, 35. "People all over are having this international conversation about what's next, what's trendy. Our role is to serve as aggregator and to provide context."
Evers and his Amsterdam-based staff share their discoveries via trendwatching.com, a free online digest of the freshest, most interesting trends that's tracked by in-the-know marketers, retailers, designers and consumers worldwide. Evers' Springspotters network, one of several global trend-tracking alliances, has more than doubled in size since last year, when there were just 2,500 volunteers. Today the spotters, ages 17 to 70, send information from more than 70 countries. They do it partly for the small rewards, like key-ring cameras, that they can earn but mostly for the street cred that comes with ID-ing a trend that appears in Evers' bible of cool.
The concept of cool huntingtracking urban trendsdates back more than a decade, but the rules of the game are rapidly changing. Over the past three years, an explosion of blogs, podcasts, websites and newsletters has pried cool hunting from the grip of professional marketers, shifting it to the text-message-happy fingers of amateur trend trackers. Some independent sites focus on broad trends and generational shifts in consumer habits. Others home in on specific styles, foods, brands and gadgets popular among trendsetters. jcreport.com, for instance, focuses on fashion, gizmodo.com on gadgetry and needled.com on tattooing trends. The best hubs for travel buzz: superfuture.com and gridskipper.com
Yet while networks are flourishing, some cool hunters prefer to do the digging themselves. Roaming the streets of Copenhagen last June, Josh Spear, 21, repeatedly hit the jackpot. Looking for quirky, undiscovered gems, the cool-hunting blogger from Boulder, Colo., stumbled upon a renovated downtown hotel whose 61 rooms had been customized by 21 street artists from around the world. He also foundand blogged about on his site, joshspear.coma chic shop called WoodWood that featured a wall of limited-edition sneakers. He says too many of today's cool hunters simply sift through blog posts, collecting other people's finds rather than discovering new trends on their own. That said, he concedes that he regularly combs through 300 blogs in search of appealing novelties to supplement his legwork.