Knight Blog

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

Share with your neighbors? There's an app for that

July 10, 2012, 11:57 a.m., Posted by Benoit Wirz


Photo Credit: Flickr user Dean Terry 

Imagine it’s Saturday afternoon in the summer and you’ve just found a lawn chair, a good book and a spot on the front porch to get situated. But the one thing you don’t want to do once you sit down is get up again, so you’ll need a ready supply of cold drinks. For that you need a cooler, which, unfortunately, you don’t have.

As luck would have it, last week you noticed your neighbors wheeling a cooler into their place. You decide to knock on their door and ask if you can borrow it.  Ten minutes later, you’re back in your lawn chair, not only with your cooler stocked, but feeling a bit better about your neighborhood and your community.

To understand the promise of the new startup Favortree, a mobile sharing service funded by Knight that is now open for registration, think about all of the things that had to go right for you to borrow your neighbors’ cooler. Your neighbors had to have a cooler. They had to know that you needed one. You had to know that they had a cooler. They had to be home for you to borrow it and they had to think you were reputable enough to agree to lend it to you.

Favortree is looking to facilitate more of this type of sharing by making all of that information readily available and by enabling users to build reputations as responsible borrowers and lenders in a game-like format. In the process, it hopes to build stronger communities.

Advisers gather to review apps in Knight News Challenge: Data

July 10, 2012, 9:26 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller


Today in Miami, we’re gathering 17 journalists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to help us review the applications in the latest Knight News Challenge, on data.

By the end of the day, we hope to have 10-12 finalists that we’ll examine more deeply over the next few weeks. We expect to bring about five of those forward for consideration by Knight Foundation trustees at their September meeting and to publicly announce the winners shortly thereafter. (If you are one of those finalists, you can expect to hear from us by next week.)

We’d like to thank the following people who have taken two days to join us:

Sensor network helps get accurate data about radiation levels in Japan

July 9, 2012, 10:14 a.m., Posted by Sean Bonner


Knight Foundation supports Safecast, a global network of sensor devices that collects crowd-based submissions of data about the environment. Safecast’s Director of Global Operations, Sean Bonner, who was recently profiled for his efforts documenting radiation data in Japan, writes about the project's progress and what's next. Above: Safecast volunteer Richard Zajac.

When Safecast started, we set out to solve one single problem. People in Japan could not get accurate data about radiation contamination and we felt that our efforts could be well spent collecting and publishing that data for people. It was a lofty goal perhaps, but it seems straightforward enough that it was worth a shot.

The fast action and generous support from Knight Foundation gave us the ability and motivation to try and realize that goal.

Our task was not small to say the least. As there was very little interest in measuring radiation prior to March 11, 2011, there was almost no stock of available monitoring devices for us to use. We were able to get our hands on a limited number of devices and to solve the coverage problem we engineered a way to make them mobile thanks to a dedicated team at the Tokyo Hackerspace. We created the “bGeigie” which enabled us to cover a lot of ground in Japan and add sometimes upwards of 20,000 data points in a single day. To just continue along with this would have eventually solved our initial challenge, however we saw the opportunity to take things a bit further.

We realized that the data we were creating because it didn’t exist in Japan, also didn’t exist elsewhere around the world and there was a clear need to help document a global radiation baseline – so we set out to do that as well. It became clear that if we had the accurate and granular data we were creating from prior to March 11, we’d know a lot more about what had actually happened. Unfortunately all we know is the results so we’re left guessing what things were like before. Our hope is the global dataset we’re now building will be valuable for future researchers. Within the first 12 months of monitoring we collected and published over three million new data points.