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

Apr 12, 2012

Themes, surprises and outliers from 1000+ #newschallenge apps on Networks

Posted by Ryan Jacoby

Earlier today, Knight Foundation announced the 51 projects advancing to the next round of the News Challenge on Networks. Here, consultant Ryan Jacoby, a former business designer at IDEOreflects on trends he saw while reviewing this year's entries. 

I had the distinct pleasure and daunting challenge of reviewing all 1000+ entries submitted for this year’s Knight News Challenge on “Networks.” As I reflected on what I read, my goal was to look for themes, surprises, and outliers. I also gave some thought to areas that might have been overlooked.

Without question, networks are powerful constructs. As John described, today’s networks not only allow us to reach people with information, but they also allow us to create direct connections amongst people, resources, and ideas. New connections yield new solutions. Today’s networks reduce friction and transaction costs, allowing people to coordinate and mobilize with relative ease. Distances can be overcome and boundaries can be spanned. Barriers can be avoided and modest resources can be amplified. In essence, networks allow us to accomplish more together than any small group can do on their own.

Based on your entries, here are ways (in no particular order) that you sought to leverage the power of networks:

  • Creating new “network knowledge” by amplifying weak signals, distributing analysis, creating metadata, and data mining
  • Giving a voice to underrepresented groups of people
  • Educating people; providing them with new skills, critical health information, perspective on current events, and information about their environment
  • Credentialing, authenticating, and validating network participants and information
  • Challenging conventional wisdom and overcoming unilateralism
  • Creating “safe” and “private” networks that escape scrutiny
  • Encouraging civic engagement
  • Monitoring and maintaining the quality of shared resources, especially ecological resources such as water
  • Organizing marketplaces, especially for journalism
  • Mobilizing and coordinating people for particular events, whether it be for disaster-recovery efforts or covering a timely news story

In many submissions, you envisioned augmenting the power of networks and people by introducing additional technology into the mix. For example, some ideas relied on active and passive sensors, many relied on algorithms, and one even relied on semi-autonomous drones. In other submissions, you relied on proven technologies, such as SMS and radio, to serve and reach groups of people.

Looking forward, could we we go even further? What might have we overlooked? What new scenarios and technologies might suggest new possibilities? Here are some provocations to get you thinking.

Interacting with a connected environment: With Internet-connected devices, “pinned” locations, digital archives, and cloud storage, we are able to associate data to objects and places. In this world of the “Internet with Things,” the challenge becomes how to create new valuable knowledge and engage with it in a productive way. How can we interact, be informed, and learn in this hyper-connected world to benefit our communities?

Crowdsourced big data analysis and synthesis: Algorithms will be unleashed on “big data,” yet human insight and effort has a role to play. Could activation of the populace uncover new connections, provide higher level analysis of issues, or solve small critical parts of big problems? How might we all help to “paint” our environment with new knowledge and information?

Re-distribution, syndication, and time-shifting of information: Cheap storage and the web leads to persistent and accessible archives of information. How might networks help content creators leverage back-catalogs to serve the information and journalistic needs of global communities? How might we better serve diasporic communities?

Adjacencies and intersections: Innovation is amplified by diversity and is the product of adjacent ideas and communities. What perspectives and value can be created by connecting disparate networks together? How would technologists and scientists reinvent journalism?

What themes and possibilities do you see?

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