One of the biggest subcultures within the Olympic Games is pin trading, with collectors tracking down limited edition pins made available by Olympic organizations and sponsors.
Governments, government agencies, national Olympic committees, national sports organizations, exhibitors and various others also make pins available. As well, many traders bring pins from past Games to show off, sell and trade with other collectors.
Pin collectors run the gamut from casual collectors who just want a few mementos to bring home to others who can get caught up creating a collection. A handful of truly serious hobbyists are even driven to collect every official Olympic pin ever made.
The tradition of pin trading dates all the way back to 1896 and the first modern Olympic Games in Athens. The first official souvenir pins date back to the Stockholm Games in 1912. The first official pin trading centre was created in 1988 for the Calgary Games, with 17,000 people attending the centre each day.
Pins also promise to be a hot item during the 2010 Games and Vancouver has no less than three pin-trading centres for enthusiasts. However, aside from a few pin-trading events, there's no permanent trading centre in Whistler during the Olympics and Paralympics.
Two issues that all pin collectors face are finding the pins that they want and connecting with people who have them available, and finding time to meet up within the short timeframe of their Olympic visit.
Enter Pinformer.com, a virtual pin trading community that helps collectors manage their pin collections and connect with other traders.
Local software developers Dan Curry and David Usher first woke up to the size of the pin trade a month ago in a conversation with Michele Rideout. Rideout, who has reviewed pin trading in action at previous Olympic Games, predicted that informal pin trading markets would emerge out of the woodwork to meet the demand. That gave Curry an idea.
Given the number of pin traders out there and the lack of space available, Curry and Usher decided to take pin trading to the online world with the launch of Pinformer.com .
The website will be live in the coming week, and the iPhone application is on track to be available in time for the Games.
"Michele actually suggested, 'why not build a program so everyone can get together,' and it seemed like a good idea," said Curry, who admits to having just one pin of his own at this point.
"The idea is to have a site that lets you see a library of all the pins available, that allows people to rank them and select favorites, that lists what pins sold for and lets collectors send each other messages to set up trades.
The website component is free, and anyone can sign up to share their comments, arrange trades and see real-time information on what pins are in demand, how much pins are trading and selling for and other information that collectors need.
The iPhone App is now in the approval process at Apple. The App, which will be available for a nominal fee, is an extension of the website that will allow iPhone and iPod Touch users to access the same information on the go.
Curry says the Pinformer business model makes sense for the one-time event, adding that it will carry forward to the Summer Games in London in 2012 and beyond. Right now their revenue is limited to ad space and App sales, but Curry says in the future they will see pin sales commissions as well.
The project is a partnership between Curry and Usher's Powdercloud Software, and Apperrific Ltd., an Ireland-based mobile phone application company. These organizations have previously collaborated on the Avert Online Snow Science application being used by B.C.'s winter recreation industry.
Not only does Pinformer complement the pin trading centres, Curry says it also makes pin trading accessible to more people.
Most collectible pins will be part of a series and easily recognized by pin collectors. For example, official VANOC pins come with a SKU number that expert collectors will know by heart. "They know the issuer, the series, the production number, the initial cost of a pin, if there was a cost. And now with Pinformer they will know how they've been trading, how to recognize pins in the catalogue, whether the pins are in good shape - that kind of thing.
"The expert collectors have all this down by now, they know what they're doing and they trade a lot of pins," said Curry. "It's like a stock market. Pinformer makes everybody an expert whether they have five pins to trade or 5,000."