The Knight Foundation today announced the winners of its News Challenge round that focuses on mobile. This round of the contest, which seeks to support innovation in media, included projects ranging from using mobile to disseminate news in developing countries to helping newsrooms manage mobile content. Eight winners received a portion of the $2.4 million total prize.
The way in which people consume news is undoubtedly shifting, as more people flock to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That, too, has transformed how media organizations need to think about mobile content. For this reason, several mobile players have already been the recipients of past News Challenge awards — think MobileActive, FrontlineSMS, as well as Watchup, Behavio and Peepol.tv, which were winners of the round on networks.
Here’s what we know about this round’s winners. You’ll be able to read more about some of them here on Idea Lab.
Project lead: Jon Gosier
Summary: The majority of mobile phone users around the world use simple feature phones which, unlike smartphones, do not have advanced storage or secondary communication options like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Abayima wants to build an open-source application that people can use to store information to SIM cards — effectively turning the cards into storage devices and their mobile phones into e-readers. This app is particularly useful for sharing news and information in countries where communication networks are unsafe to use due to surveillance or where authorities or other circumstances have shut off access to the Internet altogether. The team has successfully piloted a program with Ugandan activists during the country’s 2011 elections, while all SMS traffic in the country was monitored for voices of dissent. With challenge funding, Abayima plans to build the kit as an open source, full service, easy-to-use platform which enables publishing to SIM cards.
Project leads: Chris Csikszentmihalyi and Jude Mukundane
Summary: Radio continues to be a powerful tool for community information, and the RootIO project amplifies it by mixing its power with new mobile and Internet technologies.
RootIO is an open-source tool kit that allows communities to create their own micro radio stations with an inexpensive smartphone and transmitter, and to share, promote, and collaborate on dynamic content. The project will be piloted in Uganda in partnership with the Uganda Radio Network, UNICEF Uganda and UNICEF Innovation Unit.
Project leads: Emily Jacobi and Gregor MacLennan
emjacobi & digidem
Summary: In remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon, where mining and oil drilling are impacting the environment, health and economies of indigenous communities, residents lack the tools to collect and report these events to the outside world. Digital Democracy, a non-profit that builds community technology capacity in marginalized communities, will create and combine existing open software to produce a tool kit communities can use to share their stories and make informed choices. The team will work with local partners in the Peruvian Amazon to deploy and test the tool kit and train residents in its use.
Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation (CPF)
Project leads: Kady Murphy, Claire Rhodes and Kenny Ewan
Summary: Smallholder farmers in developing countries have limited access to support and best practices. The Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation, which designs projects to support small-scale farmers, will use mobile to address this need by building a platform allowing farmers to ask questions and share knowledge about any farming topic, have it translated by volunteers, answered by farmers in other communities and returned to them via basic SMS messages. Knight funds will enable the project, called WeFarm, to expand on successful pilots in Kenya, Peru and Tanzania, where farmers exchanged more than 4,600 SMS messages, an average of more than 70 per user, on topics such as frost control and animal husbandry.
Project leads: Michelle Lee, Serena Wales, Alex Yule
Summary: Textizen is building software to transform the citizen feedback loop. Across the country, a growing number of civic leaders are looking for new ways to connect with constituents. Neighborhood meetings are costly to run, and attendance isn’t always representative. By placing questions in physical places and inviting residents to respond from their mobile phones, Textizen creates new ways for meaningful civic participation. Started as a Code for America pilot project in Philadelphia, Textizen identified early best practices by experimenting with several types of campaigns. One, for example, asked for feedback on public transit changes by posing a text-to-vote question at a bus stop. Building on these pilots, the team will license the software to cities seeking to create new open, engaging channels for civic participation.
Project leads: Kacie Kinzer, Tom Gerhardt, Caroline Oh
kaciekinzer, tomgerhardt, @carolineyoh
Summary: Current tools for recording oral history, such as video cameras and professional audio equipment, can be difficult to use and hamper the social nature of a
conversation. This project, called Thread, will ease the process by building a simple application that enables users of all experience levels to create rich audio/visual stories that can be archived and shared easily with groups of people, ranging from immediate family members to the extended user community, depending on the user’s preference. By making it easy to record and share stories amongst generations and communities, Thread, will make it possible to preserve the stories of target groups, including rural ranchers in New Mexico whose lives reflect a disappearing culture of endurance and gifted storytelling, before the app launches more broadly.
Project lead: Kul Takanao Wadhwa
Summary: As mobile technology is increasingly the primary opportunity for billions of people around the world to access the Internet, the Wikimedia Foundation is working to
remove the two biggest hurdles to access free knowledge: cost and accessibility. News Challenge funding will help create software to bring Wikipedia to lower-end, more basic phones — the kinds the majority of people use to access data outside of the West. Specifically, efforts will be focused in three areas: developing features to improve the mobile experience regardless of how feature-rich the device is — including new ways to access Wikipedia via text; increasing the number of languages that can access Wikipedia on mobile; and improving the way feature phones access the platform.
Project leads: Sam Gregory and Bryan Nunez (at WITNESS) and Nathan Freitas and
Harlo Holmes (at Guardian Project)
Summary: In situations of conflict or civil unrest, where ordinary people are using their mobile phones to create and share media, news organizations and others have trouble
authenticating the origins of photos, videos or audio. In collaboration with The Guardian Project, the international human rights organization WITNESS seeks to solve this problem by launching the InformaCam app. The mobile app allows users to incorporate key metadata in their video (who, what, where, corroborating identifiers), watermark it as coming from a particular camera, and share it in an encrypted format with someone the user trusts. News outlets, human rights organizations and everyday people could use the app in a variety of ways — for a breaking news story using first-hand video from a citizen journalist, sharing evidence of war crimes from a conflict zone, or to verify the images of a fender bender that someone could take to small claims court. Alongside this, WITNESS is advocating for incorporation of a “citizen witness” functionality based on InformaCam into other platforms and apps.
Desiree Everts is the associate editor for Idea Lab and PBS MediaShift. She’s dabbled in digital media for the past decade including stints at CNET News and Wired magazine.