8 mobile ventures get $2.4 million from Knight Foundation

The Knight Foundation has announced the latest winners of its news challenge. The media innovation challenge is aimed at getting startups to build applications that can be used in a newsroom. This year’s theme was mobile, and the projects were quite focused on the developing world where mobile is king.

Most of the chosen projects focus on using mobile to get news and information in emerging markets. Veteran information dispenser, Wikipedia, will develop new tools to allow people to access articles and knowledge via text message in different languages. The project is part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s bigger remit to offer more access in the developing world to its site without extensive data charges.

“In 2013 the number of internet-enabled mobile devices is expected to be greater than the number of computers for the first time. These eight Knight News Challenge projects, and the innovators behind them, are helping to stretch the ways people around the world are engaging with information and using it to shape their communities,” Michael Maness, VP for journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.

Another interesting project is Abayima from Jon Gosier, Africa’s mobile innovator. Abayima is an app that turns a SIM card into a storage device for news and information. The hope is that the app will be quite useful in crisis situations and allow the likes of journalists and media producers to safely transfer information when communication networks are compromised or disabled.

The US$2.4-million of funding provided by the foundation to build these projects will be shared by the eight projects based on need.

The challenge, one of three that was launched in 2012 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, accelerates projects with funding and advice from Knight’s network of media innovators.

The winners of the challenge will present their projects via live web stream today from a gathering on the future of mobile media at Arizona State University. Interested parties can follow #newschallenge on Twitter.

Full list of Knight News Challenge: mobile winners

Winner: Abayima
Award: US$150 000
Project Lead: Jon Gosier, Philadelphia.
Twitter: @jongos, @abayima
Video: http://kng.ht/UjXMIB

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.

Winner: Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation (CPF)
Award:US$260 000
Project Leads: Kady Murphy, Claire Rhodes and Kenny Ewan, London.
Twitter: @we_farm; @TheCPFoundation
Video: http://kng.ht/V9PbsX

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.

Winner: Digital Democracy
Award: $200,000
Project Lead: Emily Jacobi and Gregor MacLennan, New York.
Twitter: @emjacobi & @digidem

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 nonprofit 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.

Winner: RootIO
Award: US$200 000
Project Lead: Chris Csikszentmihalyi and Jude Mukundane, Los Angeles, California.
Twitter: @RootioRadio, @csik

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 toolkit 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.

Winner: Textizen
Award: US$350 000
Project Leads: Michelle Lee, Serena Wales, Alex Yule, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
Twitter: @textizen, @mishmosh, @gangleton, @yuletide
Video: http://kng.ht/UjYjKt

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.

Winner: TKOH
Award: US$330 000
Project Leads: Kacie Kinzer, Tom Gerhardt, Caroline Oh, New York.
Twitter: @kaciekinzer, @tomgerhardt, @carolineyoh

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 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, it 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.

Winner: Wikimedia Foundation
Award: US$600 000
Project Lead: Kul Takanao Wadhwa, San Francisco, California.
Twitter: @wikimedia, @wikipedia

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.

Award: US$320 000
Project Lead: Sam Gregory and Bryan Nunez (at WITNESS) and Nathan Freitas and Harlo Holmes (at Guardian Project), New York.
Twitter: @SamGregory, @Tech_wit, @N8FR8, @Harlo

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 the incorporation of a “citizen witness” functionality based on InformaCam into other platforms and apps.



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