Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

#newschallenge mobile winners exemplify the rate of innovation globally

Jan. 17, 2013, 11:01 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth Miller and Chris Sopher

Today, we announced the winners of the Knight News Challenge on mobile. They are eight fascinating projects we couldn’t be happier to support: Remote Access, RootIO, Abayima, Witness, TKOH, Textizen, WeFarm and Wikipedia. But here we want to share some other insights from the contest.

The rise of mobile is an unprecedented opportunity to make it easier for people to learn about and get involved in the world around them. People are adopting new behaviors that put that goal within reach. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans regularly use mobile devices to look up information, decide whether to visit a business, settle arguments or coordinate meetings. For the first time ever, more than half of all American mobile customers own a smartphone. Mobile data access may eliminate the digital divide that’s kept millions of people from participating in the Internet. The opportunities for innovation are tremendous.

What struck us in the contest, though, is the way that innovation is happening: globally, across sectors and demographic boundaries that haven’t interacted very often. We received applications from more than 25 countries. Projects ranged from the technologically simple, such as text messaging, to the complex, such as networking many phones for disaster communication. They aimed to serve groups of all kinds, from smallholder farmers to senior citizens to governments. The barriers to creating are crumbling and mobile is a crucial part of that change.

This mirrors what’s happening in the world at large: In 2013, the Internet will become a mostly mobile medium. The Economist writes that the “number of Internet-connected mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, will exceed the number of desktop and laptop personal computers.” China alone more than 564 million Internet users in 2012. Seventy five percent of them were on mobile devices.

Through this content we saw trends and opportunities:

  • Connecting a global community: It will be obvious to anyone who works in these fields, but there are smart teams working in nearly every part of the world on similar problems, from news to agriculture. These innovators are starting to connect, but there’s an opportunity to do more.
  • Deploying existing technology: While there are already mobile tools for many purposes and fields, we heard repeatedly that adapting those to new purposes or implementing them in low-resource settings, is difficult. A focus on adoption and updating existing code could help.
  • Accelerating open government: As governments around the world adapt to a mobile society, civic innovators are working on a variety of projects to accelerate and capitalize on the trend. We saw dozens of interesting open government ideas, and it’s part of what drove us to create the next News Challenge on that theme.
  • Promoting geolocation: A significant portion of the applications we received explored using geolocation technology as a way to local news, art and business discovery. There’s a lot of experimentation still to be done.
  • Reaching underserved communities: We heard from teams in many areas, from health to finance, that they view mobile as an important opportunity to reach communities that have previously been difficult to serve with information and services.

What other trends are you seeing in mobile?

The first News Challenge of 2013, on tools for open government, opens in February. Stay up to date at www.newschallenge.org and by following @knightfdn and #newschallenge on Twitter.

The winners of the mobile challenge will present their projects tomorrow via live Web stream at 12:30 p.m. ET/ 10:30 a.m. MT. Tune in at knightfoundation.org/live.

By Chris Sopher, journalism program associate at Knight Foundation