From Concept to Demo: Knight Prototype Fund Announces 20 New Projects

    by Meg Dalton
    May 15, 2015
    The Knight Prototype Fund helps media makers, technologists, and tinkerers alike take ideas from concept to demo.

    The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation recently announced funding for 20 new projects through its Knight Prototype Fund, which helps media makers, technologists, and tinkerers alike take ideas from concept to demo. Innovators are given $35,000 grants–and six months–to research, test, and iterate before building out a complete project.

    Launched in 2012, the Prototype Fund allocates grants each quarter and provides teams with training in human-centered design and support from Impact Lab. Teams use this experience to better develop their projects and gather six months later for a demo day to share their discoveries and prototypes.

    "We’re interested in how we can help people with research and development as well as sharing the learning and outcomes from that learning and development."

    Chris Barr, the Knight Foundation director for media innovation, runs the Prototype Fund. He hopes it will spark further experimentation in both the media and public information fields.


    “We started it as a way to quickly test and learn from new projects,” he said. “It’s a different model than most philanthropic funds; it’s more in line with the pace of innovation happening on the Internet and with new digital technology. We’re interested in how we can help people with research and development as well as sharing the learning and outcomes from that learning and development.”

    With its emphasis on low-cost experimentation, the Knight Foundation recognizes that innovators should be able to build, test, explore, and share their best ideas before settling on a path. If and when those projects become successful, the Knight Foundation helps them scale.

    Foia Machine, a past Prototype grantee

    Foia Machine, a past Prototype grantee


    Previous Prototype grantees include Foia Machine and StoryCorps. The former is an open-source platform that empowers citizens and journalists to easily prepare, file, and track multiple public records requests to various governmental and public agencies worldwide. Initially funded by Knight, Foia Machine went on to receive additional funding through a successful Kickstarter campaign. The latter used its grant to build a prototype mobile app that allows people to record, upload, and share do-it-yourself StoryCorps interviews. StoryCorps recently won the $1 million TED Prize and used the award to fund and launch a new and improved version of this app.

    Compared with previous years, the Prototype Fund has become more structured and the application pool much larger, leading to an improvement in the quality of projects. The latest batch of winners features a diverse range of ideas from a platform bringing together journalism and gaming to get audiences to interact with stories to a solution that addresses the cyberbullying of women bloggers. Barr noted that, with several projects attempting to tackle the same problem, it will be interesting to observe and compare how the different approaches work.

    Project winner Futurism.co 2.0

    Project winner Futurism.co 2.0

    “We’re looking for any sort of project that’s going to create new pathways for information to get to people,” he said.

    The next deadline for prototype applications is today, May 15, 2015. Apply now.

    The New Projects

    Ballot by WeVote (Project Lead: Amy Chiou; Charlotte, N.C.): Making voting easy by matching voters with candidates who share their political views through a free Web and mobile app that provides simple quizzes and surveys and uses a matching algorithm to sort candidates by compatibility.

    Community Resource Aggregator by Union Capital Boston (Project lead: Laura Ballek; Boston): Developing a mobile-based loyalty program for low-income families that provides social and financial rewards in exchange for community involvement in schools, health centers and civic programs.

    Culture Conversations by Dance Heritage Coalition (Project lead: Imogen Smith; San Francisco): Helping the San Francisco art community preserve digital arts criticism related to dance through a tool that will make these stories fully searchable using descriptive metadata and linking it to streaming dance videos.

    Futurism.co 2.0 The Evolving Knowledge System by Futurism (Project lead: Alexander Klokus; Brooklyn, N.Y.): Helping readers easily access a collection of top science and technology stories curated through a tool that aggregates and ranks based on source credibility, keywords and social media metrics.

    KLRN Virtual Classroom by Alamo Public Telecommunications Council (Project lead: Katrina Kehoe; San Antonio, Texas): Using PBS LearningMedia and the OVEE video platform to support students who are homeschooled through a virtual classroom experience that allows them to interact with their peers online and take advantage of PBS educational resources.

    Metadata Beyond the Open Graph by Contextly (Project lead: Ryan Singel; San Francisco): Developing a new kind of writing interface that helps journalists and others create stories that include additional context and descriptive metadata, so they can be found and used more easily.

    A Metadata Graphing Interface by Chicago Public Media (Project leads: Matthew Green and Brendan Metzger; Chicago): Enabling content creators to provide audiences with smarter, better search results, story recommendations and the ability to explore content through an easy-to-use publishing platform.

    mRelief (Project lead: Rose Afriyie; Chicago): Helping people in financial need access public assistance resources through a platform that enables them to locate and apply for benefits.

    Neighborhood Drawing Tool by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (Project lead: Jessie Partridge; Boston): Helping activists, planners, students, and others find information and crowdsource popular knowledge about their neighborhoods through a tool that allows them to aggregate data based on their own definition of neighborhood boundaries.

    Numina by CTY (Project lead: Tara Pham; St. Louis, Mo.): Allowing cities and planning organizations to capture more accurate pedestrian and cyclist data by installing a machine learning-based sensor tool in city neighborhoods.

    Open Permit by Aecosoft Corp. (Project lead: Martin Maykel; Miami): Helping citizens more easily access business permitting information by creating a platform that lets multiple jurisdictions present permit data in standard formats and that can be integrated with existing systems.

    Perceptoscope (Project lead: Ben Sax; Los Angeles): Helping civic institutions like museums and historical sites present local information through augmented-reality enabled, coin-operated binoculars that provide immersive experiences in public spaces using interactive art, historical recreations and real-time data visualizations.

    Playable Stories by Arizona State University New Media Innovation Lab and Center for Games and Impact (Project leads: Retha Hill, Juli James and Adam Ingram-Goble) (Tempe, Ariz.): Enabling journalists to produce interactive, mobile-ready news experiences, based on the principles of gaming and journalism, in a WordPress plugin and theme; for example, audiences will be able to interact with stories to choose sides, make decisions and see the outcomes.

    Railroad Project (Project lead: Seth Forsgren; Miami Beach, Fla.): Allowing journalists, governments and the public to foster two-way communications with their audiences, through a video messaging tool that captures both sides of a conversation.

    The Ripple Mapping Tool by Allied Media Projects (Project lead: Jenny Lee; Detroit): Allowing social good organizations and others to measure the outcomes of a particular event through a tool that collects information from participants on what they did or did not learn, whom they met and what, if anything, grew from the experience.

    Semantic Timeline Maker by The Lens (Project lead: Abe Handler; New Orleans): Helping make sense of large amounts of data, such as emails and news articles, via a program that extracts structured facts from free text.

    She said, he said by Open Media Foundation (Project lead: Leo Kacenjar; Denver): Helping citizens hold legislators more accountable through a video and audio library tool that allows users to more easily access and discover archived video recordings from U.S. House of Representatives and Senate sessions.

    Troll-Busters by (Project lead: Dr. Michelle Ferrier; Athens, Ohio): Addressing cyberbullying of women bloggers and publishers through an online and mobile reporting, notification, monitoring, and rescue tool.

    Unveillance (Project lead: Harlo Holmes; New York): Enabling journalists and others to uncover answers and explore data sets through a friend-to-friend file-sharing platform in which users can “drop” documents into a folder and have them quickly analyzed and explored.

    Verified Pixel Project (Project lead: Samaruddin Stewart; Daly City, Calif.): Helping news organizations quickly verify photos captured by everyday people through a platform that allows automated testing of the photos through metadata and image analysis.

    Meg Dalton (@megdalts) is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift and Idea Lab.

    Tagged: experimentation innovation knight foundation knight prototype fund prototype prototyping

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