18 news and information ideas receive Knight Prototype Fund support

Knight Prototype Fund winners met this summer to share ideas in Pittsburgh. Photo: Michael Bolden.

Eighteen projects will each receive $35,000 in funding and time to test their media and information ideas as the latest recipients of grants from the Knight Prototype Fund. Related Link

The fund, which Knight launched in 2012, encourages the rapid iteration and testing of ideas while providing a support network for the creators. The recipients join a cohort of winners who get the opportunity to receive human-centered design training and to share ideas and concepts with other people experiencing similar opportunities and challenges.

“We’re very interested in lighting fires under new projects and taking risks with the knowledge that some of those projects might fail,” said Chris Barr, director for media innovation at Knight Foundation. “The Prototype Fund is built to accept that risk. A lot of them are going to take a left turn at Albuquerque and turn into something that we don’t expect at all, but we can always learn from them.”

Recently, new prototype grant recipients traveled to Pittsburgh, Pa., and shared in that learning. They experienced human-centered design training at LUMA Institute, which gives them a better understanding of how to respond to the needs of potential users as they develop their projects and services, and listened to previous recipients talk about the development of their ideas and their next steps during a demo day at Left Field Meeting Space.

The demonstration projects represented a diverse set of ideas, including: CSVIZ, which allows people to “visualize, edit and contribute to geo-data”;, which helps people expunge their juvenile records; LibraryBox, hardware that provides a digital access point in places with little or no Internet connectivity (and now being used in 28 countries on six continents); Louder, a tool that amplifies crowdfunding campaigns, petitions and content; and Project Fission, a real-time public reporter’s notebook.

In all 12 recipients of prototype grants presented: Capital Hound, CSVIZ,, GovLoop Academy, LibraryBox, Louder, News on Demand, Price Check, Press Secure, Project Fission, Refinery and Tabula. In addition to a new cohort of prototype grant recipients, the audience included Knight staff, project advisers, venture capitalists and representatives from other funders, such as the Heinz Endowments.

Prototype Fund applications are considered on a rolling basis throughout the year. The next deadline is Nov. 1. Learn more and apply at

The projects receiving investments in this Prototype Fund round are:

Andrew Chavez (independent project; Austin, Texas): Allowing photojournalists to stream photos to the newsroom in near real time with a small battery-powered device that attaches to a camera.

C-Lab, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (Project lead: Benedict Clouette; New York): Creating a toolkit that will allow communities to study possibilities for developing vacant land in their neighborhoods based on data such as pedestrian accessibility, slope, sunlight, liens, etc.

Creative Commons (Project lead: Ryan Merkley; Mountain View, Calif.): Creating a mobile app that allows users to capture and share photos through a public repository on the Internet Archive. Photos will have a Creative Commons license, making them available to anyone for use and reuse.

CommunityRED (Project lead: Shauna Dillavou; Washington, D.C.): Creating a mobile game that teaches journalists how to assess digital threats, risks and vulnerabilities that can affect them and their sources.

Fergus Pitt and Taylor Owen (independent project; New York): Providing the first live-action, interactive journalistic use of virtual reality through a headset that will immerse viewers in a 360-degree, 3-D visual and audio space.

Harvard Library Innovation Lab/Berkman Center for Internet & Society (Project lead: Jonathan Zittrain; Cambridge, Mass.): Creating a time-lapse encryption service that will allow archivists, scholars and journalists to securely send a message into the future, so it cannot be read until a certain date or event.

How Wrong You Are (Project lead: Moiz Syed; San Francisco): Expanding the tool How Wrong You Are, a collection of important questions that people are sometimes misinformed about that provides insights into public knowledge of a particular issue, such as climate change.

Infogram Software Inc. (Project lead: Mikko Jarvenpaa; San Francisco): Creating an educational game that teaches children data literacy, data visualization and critical thinking.

Internews (Project lead: Megan DeBlois; Washington, D.C.) Creating an easy-to-use, open source digital trainer tool that will allow digital security developers to simulate a variety of hostile digital environments, such as a censoring firewall or a surveilling Internet service provider.

MuckRock (Project lead: Michael Morisy; Boston): Developing a mobile app that allows users to contribute to news stories with assignments including quick crowdsourcing tasks (glancing through documents, categorizing or submitting pictures, choosing a headline, taking news quizzes and more).

National Freedom of Information Coalition (Project lead: Hyde Post; Atlanta): Training state and local government employees and agencies about state open records, open meetings, and freedom of information laws and regulations through a service including mobile apps and professional support.

Open Technology Institute, the Open Internet Tools Project and Measurement Lab (Project lead: James Vasile; Washington, D.C., and New York): Building a network to test in real time the effectiveness of anti-censorship tools to provide guidance to activists, journalists and citizens and help them access blocked information.

Public Radio International (Project lead: Michael Skoler; Minneapolis, Minn.): Making it easier for people to directly respond to news stories by displaying relevant user-actions within the story; actions will be integrated into the body copy where they contextually make sense.

Participatory Politics Foundation (Project lead: David Moore; New York): Building tools that will allow media organizations to enable their readers to ask questions and get answers from public figures; the tools will be powered by the foundation’s Q&A Web app,

Rhizome (Project lead: Michael Connor; New York): Providing a tool that will allow the archiving and preservation of social media conversations in context (the likes, the threaded responses, the aesthetics).

SciStarter (Project lead: Darlene Cavalier; Philadelphia) Connecting data journalists and researchers with citizen scientists who are interested in helping them collect data about specific issues (i.e. water quality in a particular neighborhood).

University of Maryland Nicholas Diakopoulos (College Park, Md.): Making it easier for community managers and moderators in news organizations to quickly identify high-quality comments that they can then highlight on their sites.

Ushahidi (Project lead: Gregory Omondi; Orlando, Fla.): Creating a mobile app that people can use to check in during a crisis or disaster.

Michael D. Bolden is editorial director of Knight Foundation.

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