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March 28 2012

14:00

Colorful City Tracking Maps Launch Under Creative Commons

Maps.stamen.com, the second installment of the City Tracking project funded by the Knight News Challenge, is live.

These unique cartographic styles and tiles, based on data from Open Street Map, are available for the entire world, downloadable for use under a under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, and free.

takes deep breath

There are three styles available: toner, terrain, and watercolor:

  • Toner is about stripping online cartography down to its absolute essentials. It uses just black and white, describing a baseline that other kinds of data can be layered on. Stripping out any kind of color or image makes it easier to focus on the interactive nature of online cartography: When do different labels show up for different cities? What should the thickness of freeways be at different zoom levels? And so forth. This project is the one that Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso is hacking on at all hours, and it's great to be seeing Natural Earth data get more tightly integrated into the project over time.
  • Terrain occupies a middle ground: "shaded hills, nice big text, and green where it belongs." In keeping with City Tracking's mandate to make it easier for people to tell stories about cities, this is an open-source alternative to Google's terrain maps, and it uses all open-source software like Skeletron to improve on the base line cartographic experience. Mike Migurski has been heading up this design, with help from Gem Spear and Nelson Minar.
  • Watercolor pushes through to the other side of normal, bending the rules of traditional legibility in order to explore some new terrain. It incorporates hand-painted textures and algorithmic rule sets into a design that looks like it's been done by 10,000 slaves in the basement, but is rendered on the fly. Geraldine Sarmiento and Zach Watson did the lion's share of the design and development on this one. This design is a mixed bag for me: I'm delighted to see it out in the world, but it's the thing that's pretty much kept me from looking at anything else for the last month and a half.

The code that runs Toner and Terrain is available for download and use at the City Tracking GitHub repository; we're going to wait on watercolor a little while until we can get some of the kinks ironed out. We talked about waiting to launch until watercolor was all buttoned up, but what with all the attention that Open Street Map has been getting, we decided to just bite the bullet and go for it.

We'll follow up this week with some posts on how everything works and how the sausage is made, and I've got a lot more to say about what I think this implies for what can be done with online maps and data visualization.

In the meantime, have you seen how awesome Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., the Forbidden City, Massachusetts Bay, Key West, London, New Orleans, New York, Versailles, and every other city in the cotton-pickin' world look when you point this thing at it? Holy heck.

Los Angeles

Washington, D.C.

The Forbidden City

Massachusetts Bay

Key West

London

New Orleans

New York

San Francisco

Tokyo

Versailles

July 20 2011

14:31

Dotspotting + Embeds = Great Maps of Prisons, Crime, Pavement Dots

There are three basic parts to working with online representations of urban civic data in Dotspotting: collating the data, manipulating it, and then sharing and publishing it. Up until now, we've been focused on the first two, which makes sense. Obviously you need to be able to gather and work with the data before you can share it.

Today we're announcing the inclusion of the project's most requested feature: embedding the maps that people make into sites of their own.

Dotspotting makes tools to help people gather data about cities and make that information more legible. It's the first project Stamen released as part of Citytracking, a project funded by the Knight News Challenge.

Dotspotting's "embed/export" feature has been reworked to include the ability to generate HTML code that you can configure to your own specs, depending on how your site is formatted. Basic embed code is available in default mode, which will generate a map that looks pretty much the way it does on Dotspotting:

California state prisons on Dotspotting

There are a couple of different options in embed; so, for example, you can swap out the normal toner cartography for Bing's new (awesome) map tiles:

California state prisons on Dotspotting

We've been working with Mission Local, a news organization that reports on our home base of the Mission District, to find ways to take the lessons learned from the Crimespotting project and give this ability to local publications and advocates. The crime theme we've developed with them lets you generate maps that look like the one below, if you provide a "crime type" value in your data:

Crime June 21-28 updated on Dotspotting

And my favorite so far is the photo theme, which takes a "flickr:id" or "photo_url" field from your data (say, a set on flickr) and generates a visual mapping of where the photos are:

Dots on the pavement from flickr on Dotspotting

We're planning on releasing more of these as time goes by; if you've got ideas for a theme you'd like to see, please upload some data and get in touch!

March 15 2011

16:46

How Dotspotting Began with Colored Dots on Drains in San Francisco

sewer-250.jpgIn some ways you could say that the Dotspotting project started with San Francisco's sewage and drain system. A few years ago I started noticing some strange dot markings on the curbs of city sidewalks, directly above the storm drains like the one you see on the left

But on closer inspection, it turned out they weren't just single dots. They seemed to be dots that had been applied, rubbed off a bit, and reapplied. Like Roman palimpsests, the curbs above drains looked like reusable canvasses -- but for dots, instead of edicts. The image below is one close-up example.

sewerclose-500.jpg

This is the kind of thing that infrastructure dorks like me obsess over for a while... and then inevitably move on to something else. (My fascination with the dots waned as I became intrigued by another piece of urban infrastructure, the cable car, which I've been using on my daily commute for about six months -- and mapping on Dotspotting).

Spotting the Dotter

A few years went by and one day I happened to see a man riding his bicycle down Hyde Street in the Tenderloin. His route and mine coincided in just the right way for me to see him stop at a storm drain, reach down and do something with a pole, make a note on a hand-held device, and slowly bike down to the next drain. Traffic being what it was on Hyde, I was able to catch up with him just in time to see him spraying different colored dots on the curb, over dots the ones that were already there! I was pretty excited.

After a quick conversation later, I discovered that he worked at San Francisco's Mosquito Abatement Team. This is the part of the Public Utilities Commission that checks likely standing water locations in the city and, if they find mosquitoes, deals with them. Of course, they track all of their work on GPS and so forth (stay tuned for some hopeful mappings of that data).

But in order to keep things simple -- and to make it possible to see how long its been since a drain was inspected -- the Abatement Team coordinates their efforts so that they always know whether this inspection period is green, white, pink, and so forth. If a drain's most recent dot is the right color, it's been inspected. If not, it hasn't. It's a simple and elegant solution to a potentially onerous problem.

I love that the simple process of making the same mark over and over again, but making it slightly differently, results in this rich data set that can be understood and read if you've got the information and tools to interpret it. (As a side note, I also love having conversations with people who spray markings on the sidewalk. You think you're bothering them with your questions but I've found they're actually pretty pleased to talk to you.)

Visualizing Water Systems

Like a lot of other things, the water system is a gnarly beast that gets more interesting the more you poke at it. There's a ton of information available on the San Francisco utility website, including the awesome map of its wastewater system below -- it even includes the city's version of the Continental Divide:

Wastewater_System_Overview - 500.jpg

Back to Dotspotting

All of this is a long lead-in to the fact that Herb Dang, who runs the Operations department at SFWater, was a surprise visitor to the CityTracking Conference we've just finished cleaning up from at Stamen HQ. His presence sparked just the kind of conversation I had hoped would happen at the conference: developers interested in digital civic infrastructure talking directly with the people who hold the data and use it every day.

We learned a couple interesting things from Herb.

First, that there's a giant concrete wall around the city on the Bay side that channels all of the wastewater runoff down to the Southeast Treatment Plant (not to be confused with the Oceanside Treatment Plant that was almost renamed the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. ("Besides," locals joked, "if we name the local sewage plant after Bush, then what's left to name after Jesse Helms?")

Second, that any request for data about the location, diameter, and any other information about a public drain pipe in the city has to go through a technical review as well as a legal review. So, in addition to needing to verify that the information is correct, the water department also needs to verify that it's a legit request. You don't want people hoovering up information about drains that they could potentially slip bombs into, for example.

Every single building in San Francisco has their own set of records for water and drainage and sewer connections, and getting information on each one of these generates its own review processes. What that means is that if a team like Stamen wants to make a map of the water infrastructure near our office, we'll need to write a separate subpoena, for each connection. For. Each. Connection.

Herb estimated that, within a stone's throw from the studio where the conference was held, there were about 40,000 sewer connections. "40,000 subpoenas" became a catch-phrase for the rest of the day.

How We're Implementing This Info

In any event, I'm still catching up with all of the interesting discussions that were had during the conference, but that's a pretty good representative sample. It's also a nice way to segue into the design work we've been doing on Dotspotting, which I'll be demoing briefly at South by Southwest this week.

There are a number of pretty substantial improvements, but what I'm most excited about at the moment are some big changes to the interface and overall visual look of the thing. Mapping 311 requests for Sewer Issues in District 10 used to look like the cropped image below.

dotspotting_old - 500.jpg

Now, with some swanktastic custom cartography that Geraldine and Aaron have been working on, and visual and interactive improvements that Sean and Shawn (I know, weird, right?) have been polishing and making right, it looks more like the shot below. We'll be pushing this work live some time before my SXSW presentation.

dotspotting_new - 500.jpg

So, onwards we go. Upload yer dots!

February 09 2011

21:10

'Data and Cities' Conference Pushes Open Data, Visualizations

When I entered Stamen's offices in the Mission district of San Francisco, I saw four people gathered around a computer screen. What were they doing? Nothing less than "mapping the world" -- not as it appears in flat dimension, but how it reveals itself. And they weren't joking. Stamen, a data visualization firm, has always kept "place" central to many of their projects. They achieved this most famously through their crimespotting maps of Oakland and San Francisco, which give geographical context to the world of crime. This week they are taking on a world-sized challenge as they host a conference that focuses on cities, interactive mapping, and data.

As part of a Knight News challenge grant, this conference is part of Stamen's Citytracking project, an effort to provide the public with new tools to interact with data as it relates to urban environments. The first part of this project is called dotspotting, and is startling in its simplicity. While still in early beta stage, this project aims at creating a baseline map by imposing linkable dots on locations to yield data sets. The basic idea is to strike a balance between the free, but ultimately not-yours, nature of Google Maps and the infinitely malleable, but overly nerdy, open-source stacks that are out there.

dotspotting crop.jpg

With government agencies increasingly expected to operate within expanded transparency guidelines, San Francisco passed the nation's first open data law last fall, and many other U.S. cities have started to institutionalize this type of disclosure. San Francisco's law is basic and seemingly non-binding. It states that city departments and agencies "shall make reasonable efforts" to publish any data under their control, as long as the data does not violate other laws, in particular those related to privacy. After the law passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors (no small feat in this terminally fractious city), departments have been uploading data at a significant rate to our data clearinghouse website, datasf. While uploading data to these clearinghouses is the first step, finding ways to truly institutionalize this process has been challenging.

Why should we care about open data? And why should we want to interact with it?

While some link the true rise of open data movement with the most recent recession, the core motivation behind this movement has always been inherent to the nature of a citizenry. Behind this movement is active citizenship. Open data in this sense can mean the right to understand the social, cultural, and societal forces constantly in play around us. As simultaneously the largest consumers and producers of data, cities have the responsibility to engage their citizens with this information. Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research), and I wrote more about this, in our 2010, year in review guide.

Stamen's Citytracking project wants to make that information accessible to more than just software developers but at a level of sophistication that simultaneously allows for real analysis and widespread participation. Within the scope of this task, Stamen is attempting to converge democracy, technology, and design.

Why is this conference important?

Data and Cities brings together city officials, data visualization experts, technology fiends, and many others who fill in the gaps between these increasingly related fields.
Stamen has also designed this conference to have a mixture of formats, from practical demonstrations, to political discussions, and highly technical talks.

According to Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen's founder and CEO, "This is an exciting time for cities and data, where the literacy level around visualization seems to be rising by the day and we see huge demand and opportunity for new and interesting ways for people to interact with their digital civic infrastructure. And we're also seeing challenges and real questions on the role that cities take in providing the base layer of services and truths that we can rely on. We want to talk about these things in a setting where we can make a difference."

Data and Cities will take place February 9 - 11 and is invitation-only. In case you haven't scored an invitation, I'll be blogging about it all week.

Selected Speakers:

Jen Pahlka from Code for America - inserting developers into city IT departments across the country to help them mine and share their data.

Adam Greenfield from http://urbanscale.org/ and author of Everyware. Committed to applying the toolkit and mindset of interaction design to the specific problems of cities.

Jay Nath, City of San Francisco
http://www.jaynath.com/2010/12/why-sf-should-adopt-creative-commons, http://datasf.org

January 20 2011

17:37

Dotspotting Expands to Track Homicides, Food Vendors, Road Trips

Since my last post, we've been busily working on extending the functionality of Dotspotting, the first project in our larger Citytracking project aimed at helping people tell stories about cities. It's still, as my colleague Aaron puts it, very much in a "super alpha-beta-disco-ball" state -- which mainly just means we don't want anyone to put data in there that they expect to keep -- but it's getting there.

A few things have happened that I want to update you about:

  • Import has been expanded from only accepting .csv files to include .gpx, .json, .kml, .rss and .xls files. Various people around the studio use a variety of GPS tracking software. I use Trails for the iPhone, Julie uses Mytracks for Android, and so on. We've been starting with those formats as a baseline, using the files that different applications export and pulling them into Dotspotting.
  • Export has been expanded to include all of the above file types, and also includes .png files. We're hoping this is going to be particularly useful for journalists who want to include images of geographic content in their articles but don't want to use the screen-capping-a-google-map-and-hoping-the-legal-department-doesn't-catch-on technique. So these kinds of images become easy to export out of the system.
  • Search is coming along. This report from DataSF about 311 activity in District 6, where the studio is, has 392 dots, showing the wide variety of calls for service that the system handles in a week. You can now search these kinds of reports fairly comprehensively, so it's now possible to make maps of only those requests having to do with Catch Basin Maintenance, graffiti, or tree maintenance. These are the kinds of queries that we want to enable journalists and others to make when telling stories about city data, and they're the kind of thing that lots of current city data services don't report, so it's gratifying to see those come together.
  • Search is also working in a limited fashion relative to position, and PDF export is next on the list. More on these next time.
  • We've squashed a lot of bugs related to importing and exporting, and found a bunch more of course. We're keeping track of these on the project GitHub account; if you find one, please let us know.
  • Uploads are starting to trickle in from outside the studio walls: Homicides in Richmond, New Food Vendors in Vancouver, and trips along the coast of California are a few of what we've seen. We're in conversations with a couple of cities and other groups, more on that next time.

Onwards!

December 02 2010

16:50

Dotspotting Launches to Make City Data Mappable

1288311519955

Dotspotting is the first project Stamen is releasing as part of Citytracking, a project funded by the Knight News Challenge. We're making tools to help people gather data about cities and make that data more legible. Our hope is to do this in a way that's simple enough for regular people to get involved, but robust enough for real research to happen along the way.

There's currently a whole chain of elements involved in building digital civic infrastructure for the public, and these are represented by various Stamen projects and those of others. At the moment, the current hodgepodge of bits -- including APIs and official sources, scraped websites, sometimes-reusable data formats and datasets, visualizations, embeddable widgets etc. -- is fractured, overly technical and obscure, and requires considerable expertise to harness. That is, unless you're willing to use generic tools like Google Maps. We want to change this. Visualizing city data shouldn't be this hard, or this generic.

So the first part of this project is to start from scratch, in a "clean room" environment. We've started from a baseline that's really straightforward, tackling the simplest part: Getting dots on maps, without legacy code or any baggage. Just that, to start. Dots on maps.

More Than Dots

But dots on maps implies a few other things: Getting the locations, putting them on there, working with them, and -- crucially -- getting them out in a format that people can work with.

We've had several interactions with different city agencies so far, and while the situation has changed alot in the last few years, we've realized that, for the foreseeable future, people aren't going to stop using Word and Excel and Pages and Numbers to work with their data, or even stop using paper. It's made us think that if this stuff is really going to work out in the long run, we need to focus our thinking on projects that can consume as well as export things that cities and people actually use and use now. This is instead of going with projects that have to rely on fancy APIs or the latest database flavor.

It's great that San Francisco and New York are releasing structured XML data, but Oakland is still uploading Excel spreadsheets (it's actually awesome that they do), and the Tenderloin police lieutenants are printing out paper maps and hand-placing colored stickers on them. At some point, if this really is the way things are going, we're going to need to meet the needs of actual functioning city agencies; and while APIs are great and necessary, for now that means Excel spreadsheets and Word docs. It also means being able to easily read in data that people have uploaded to Google maps, interface with SMS systems like those that Ushahidi are pioneering. And it means being able to export to things like PowerPoint and Keynote, scary as that may seem.

What we've launched with is the baseline work that's being done to make this stuff internet-native. There's a login and permissions system that pretty much works. Uploading .csv files full of dots works. Each dot has an HTML page of its own, for example, like they do on Crimespotting. Collections of dots (we're calling them sheets) work, and you can export them. And there are dots on maps.

Easter Egg

What's up with the funny map, above, you ask? That's an undocumented Easter egg that allows you to change the default base map for Dotspotting on the fly using a templated URL. If that last sentence sounds like gibberish, just think: Fun! And a bit dorky. But fun!

Speaking of which, the code for Dotspotting is available for download on Github, and licensed for use under the GNU General Public License. We're planning on releasing the code as we work on the project, in the hope that working in this kind of transparent manner from the beginning will both benefit the project and serve as an example of the way we'd like to work with foundations on this kind of work.

June 16 2010

19:30

Knight Announces News Challenge Winners for 2010

knight placard.jpg

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. -- I am at MIT for the announcement of the latest round of News Challenge winners. First up is the president and CEO of the Knight Foundation, Alberto Ibarguen. (Note: The Twitter widget on Idea Lab is now a feed taken from the conference's hashtag: #fncm.)

Alberto Ibarguen, Knight Foundation CEO: We didn't have a clue as to how to deal with the changes in the media business, so we started the News Challenge. We've had thousands of applicants. It was designed to be open, and was meant for news and information to be shared in a community using a digital platform. We got sidetracked looking for technical innovation but righted the ship by looking at information that engages communities.

We're actively engaging community foundations. Have of the community of foundations in the U.S. have applied to a separate contest we have for them to meet the needs of communities. It's also open ended, and we match funding they get. The Knight fellows program at Stanford, where we have no power, has also shifted onto an entrepreneurial, digital-based solutions. We also gave a grant to NPR to train all of their personnel on digital, and are about to do a second round with them, trying to bring NPR into the digital age.

We are about to enter our fifth year for the contest, but we will remain committed to innovation in the field after that.

*****

Here's the full list of Knight News Challenge winners for 2010, the fourth year of the contest that awards grants to people who are helping to reinvent community news. The winners will be blogging here on Idea Lab over the next year or more, so you'll get to know them even better.

CityTracking
Award: $400,000
Winner: Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen Design
Web URL: http://stamen.com; http://crimespotting.org
Twitter: @stamen
Location: San Francisco
Summary: To make municipal data easy to understand, CityTracking will allow users to create embeddable data visualizations that are appealing enough to spread virally and that are as easy to share as photos and videos. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others. The creators will use high design standards, making the visuals beautiful as well as useful.

Bio: Eric Rodenbeck is the founder and creative director of Stamen, a leading mapping and data visualization design studio based in San Francisco. Recent Stamen projects for the London 2012 Olympics, MSNBC and the City of San Francisco push the boundaries of online cartography and design. In addition, the studio's contribution to open source mapping projects are helping to make possible a bottom-up revolution in how maps and data visualization are made and consumed. Rodenbeck led the interactive storytelling and data-driven narrative effort at Quokka Sports, illustrated and designed at Wired magazine and Wired Books, and was a co-founder of the design collective Umwow. His work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Rodenbeck received a bachelor's in the history and philosophy of technology from The New School for Social Research in 1994. In 2008, he was named one of Esquire magazine's "Best and Brightest" new designers and thinkers, and one of ID Magazine's top 40 designers to watch. He is on the board of directors of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation.

*****

The Cartoonist
Award: $378,000
Winner: Ian Bogost and Michael Mateas
Web URL: http://www.gatech.edu
Twitter: @ibogost
Location: Atlanta
Summary: To engage readers in the news, this project will create a free tool that produces cartoon-like current event games -- the game equivalent of editorial cartoons. The simplified tools will be created with busy journalists and editors in mind, people who have the pulse of their community but don't have a background in game development. By answering a series of questions about the major actors in a news event and making value judgments about their actions, The Cartoonist will automatically propose game rules and images. The games aim to help the sites draw readers and inspire them to explore the news.

Bio: Ian Bogost, a videogame designer, critic and researcher, is associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founding partner at Persuasive Games. His research and writing considers videogames as an expressive medium, and his creative practice focuses on political and art games. Bogost is the author of "Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism," "Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames," the co-author of "Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System" and the forthcoming "Newsgames: Journalism at Play." Bogost's videogames cover topics as varied as airport security, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, suburban errands and tort reform. His games have been played by millions of people and exhibited internationally.

Michael Mateas is an authority on artificial intelligence for games and interactive entertainment. His research group at the University of California, Santa Cruz, The Expressive Intelligence Studio, is one of the largest technical game research groups in the world. He holds the MacArthur Endowed Chair and helped create the first game design program in the University of California system. With Andrew Stern, he created the award-winning Façade, the first artificial intelligence-based interactive drama.

*****

Local Wiki
Award: $350,000
Winner: Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov
Web URL: http://daviswiki.org
Twitter: @philipn; @mivanov
Location: San Francisco
Summary: Based on the successful DavisWiki.org in Davis, Calif., this project will create enhanced tools for local wikis, a new form of media that makes it easy for people to learn -- and share -- their own unique community knowledge. Members will be able to post articles about anything they like, edit others and upload photos and files. This grant will help create the specialized open-source software that makes the wiki possible and help communities develop, launch and sustain local wiki projects.

Bio: Philip Neustrom is a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay area. He co-founded DavisWiki.org in 2004. For the past several years he has worked on a variety of nonprofit efforts to engage everyday citizens. He oversaw the development of the popular VideoTheVote.org, the world's largest coordinated video documentation project, and was the lead developer at Citizen Engagement Laboratory, a nonprofit focused on empowering traditionally underrepresented constituencies. He is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with a bachelor's in mathematics.

Mike Ivanov is a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He co-founded DavisWiki.org in 2004. He, along with Philip Neustrom, was awarded the Excellence in Community Involvement Award by the City of Davis for his work on the DavisWiki, an honor usually reserved for traditional local media formats such as radio and television. He is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with a bachelor's in mathematics.

*****

windycitizen profile.jpg

WindyCitizen's Real Time Ads
Award: $250,000
Winner: Brad Flora, WindyCitizen.com
Web URL: http://nowspots.com
Twitter: @bradflora
Location: Chicago
Summary: As a way to help online startups become sustainable, this project will develop an improved software interface to help sites create and sell what are known as "real-time ads." These ads are designed to be engaging as they constantly change -- showing the latest message or post from the advertiser's Twitter account, Facebook page or blog. Challenge winner Brad Flora helped pioneer the idea on his Chicago news site, WindyCitizen.com.

Bio: Brad Flora is a journalist and entrepreneur in Chicago. He is the founder and president of WindyCitizen.com, which gives Chicagoans a place to share, rate and discuss their favorite local stories, events and deals. His work has appeared in Slate magazine and Chicago-area newspapers. He was a 2008 Carnegie-Knight News 21 Fellow and is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

*****

GoMap Riga
Award: $250,000
Winner: Marcis Rubenis and Kristofs Blaus, GoMap Riga
Web URL: www.gomap.org; www.KristofsBlaus.com
Twitter: @kristofsblaus; @MarcisRubenis
Location: Riga, Latvia
Summary: To inspire people to get involved in their community, this project will create a live, online map with local news and activities. GoMap Riga will pull some content from the web and place it automatically on the map. Residents will be able to add their own news, pictures and videos while discussing what is happening around them. GoMap Riga will be integrated with the major existing social networks and allow civic participation through mobile technology. The project will be tested in Riga, Latvia, and ultimately be applicable in other cities.

Bio: Marcis Rubenis is a social entrepreneur in Riga, Latvia. In 2006, he initiated the first non-governmental organization (NGO) network in Riga, to foster greater transparency, sustainability and public participation in large-scale development plans in the capital. Rubenis is a multiple business competition award winner, including garnering second place in the biggest international student team business competition in Europe in 2006. Rubenis is also the founder of the crowdsourcing organization, "House of Ideas," and the co-founder of the event format, idejuTalka (ideaCamp), which uses crowdsourcing to fuel grassroots solutions for business and society. Rubenis studies economics at the University of Latvia and is researching how crowdsourcing, open source and similar models of social organization can benefit real world communities and businesses.

Kristofs Blaus is a European entrepreneur managing various innovative businesses in the Baltics. Since 2007, he has successfully worked with teaching-aid software for mobile phones, advanced marketing solutions, payment systems and delivering advanced IT services. Blaus, the winner of various business competitions in Latvia, is founder and CEO of Education Mobile Ltd., Technology Mobile Ltd. and Politics Mobile Ltd., and founder of the Society Technologies Foundation. He has lectured and presented to young entrepreneurs, teachers, young leaders and business students across the Baltic region.

*****

Order in the Court 2.0
Award: $250,000
Winner: John Davidow, WBUR
Web URL: www.wbur.org
Twitter: @johndavidow
Location: Boston
Summary: To foster greater access to the judicial process, this project will create a laboratory in a Boston courtroom to help establish best practices for digital coverage that can be replicated and adopted throughout the nation. While the legislative and executive branches have incorporated new technologies and social media, the courts still operate under the video and audio recording standards established in the 1970s and '80s. The courtroom will have a designated area for live blogging via a Wi-Fi network and the ability to live-stream court proceedings to the public. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts court system, the project will publish the daily docket on the web and build a knowledge wiki for the public with common legal terms.

Bio: John Davidow was named WBUR's executive editor of new media in July of 2009, where he has overseen the growth of the award-winning wbur.org. Davidow joined WBUR as news director/managing editor in 2003 after spending more than two decades as a journalist in Boston. Davidow's work has been recognized with regional awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Associated Press and UPI. He has also recieved a number of regional Emmy Awards. Davidow graduated cum laude from Tufts University with a bachelor's in economics.

*****

Front Porch Forum
Award: $220,000
Winner: Michael Wood-Lewis, Front Porch Forum
Web URL: http://frontporchforum.com
Twitter: @MichaelFPF
Location: Burlington, Vt.
Summary: To help residents connect with others and their community, this grant will help rebuild and enhance a successful community news site, expand it to more towns and release the software so other organizations, anywhere can use it. The Front Porch Forum, a virtual town hall space, helps residents share and discuss local news, build community and increase engagement. The site, currently serving 25 Vermont towns, will expand to 250.

Bio: Michael Wood-Lewis has been pulling neighbors together into community since his Indiana childhood spent organizing ball games and visiting neighbors on his evening paper route. Decades later, he founded Front Porch Forum, which hosts a pilot network of 140 online neighborhood forums that blankets 25 northwest Vermont towns. More than 18,000 households subscribe to Front Porch Forum. The resulting news sharing and community building is attracting recognition from PBS MediaShift, the Vermont legislature, the Rural Telecom Congress and the Case and Orton Family Foundations. Previously, he led an innovative trade association of New England utilities. Earlier, he guided a Washington, D.C.-based consortium of U.S. municipal leaders in developing environmental technologies, building on his experience as an inventor of high-tech recycling equipment. He earned a master's in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as an MBA.

*****

One-Eight
Award: $202,000
Winner: Teru Kuwayama
Web URL: www.novembereleven.org; www.lightstalkers.org/teru
Twitter: @terukuwayama
Location: Chicago
Summary: Broadening the perspectives that surround U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, this project will chronicle a battalion by combining reporting from embedded journalists with user-generated content from the Marines themselves. The troops, recently authorized to use social media while deployed, and their families will be key audiences for the online journal -- steering, challenging and augmenting the coverage with their feedback. The approach will directly serve the stakeholders and inform the wider public by bringing in on-the-ground views on military issues and the execution of U.S. foreign policy.

Bio: Teru Kuwayama is a photographer who has spent most of the past decade reporting on conflict and humanitarian crisis. He has reported in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and Iraq - traveling both independently and as an embedded reporter with military forces. His photographs have appeared in publications including Time, Newsweek, Outside and National Geographic. Kuwayama is the co-founder of Lightstalkers.org, a web-based network of media, military, aid and development personnel serving more than 40,000 members. He is currently a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Kuwayama received a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Albany.

*****

Stroome
Award: $200,000
Winner: Nonny de la Peña and Tom Grasty, Stroome
Web URL: http://stroome.com
Twitter: @nonnydlp; @stroome
Location: Los Angeles
Summary: To simplify the production of news video, Stroome will create a virtual video-editing studio. There, correspondents, editors and producers will be able to upload and share content, edit and remix with friends and colleagues -- all without using expensive satellite truck technology. The site will launch as eyewitness video -- often captured by mobile phones or webcams -- is becoming a key component of news coverage, generating demand for supporting tools.

Bio: Recently named an "Innovator to Watch" by the University of Southern California's (USC) Stevens Institute for Innovation, Tom Grasty is an entrepreneurial digital and media strategist with a diverse, 15-year background across the entertainment, advertising, public relations and Internet industries. Most recently, Grasty was head of creative development at Blaze Television, where he was responsible for the company's digital media operations. Grasty has a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a master's from USC's pioneering program in online communities.

Nonny de la Peña is a senior research fellow in immersive journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. At USC, she is pushing boundaries for entrepreneurial and technologically innovative journalistic endeavors. A graduate of Harvard University, she is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with 20 years of journalism experience, including as a correspondent for Newsweek magazine and as a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Premiere magazine and others. Her films have screened on national television and at theaters in more than 50 cities around the globe, garnering praise from critics like the New York Times' A.O. Scott, who called her work "a brave and necessary act of truth-telling."

*****

CitySeed
Award: $90,000
Winner: Retha Hill and Cody Shotwell, Arizona State University
Web URL: www.painteddesertmedia.com; http://codyshotwell.com
Twitter: @codyshotwell; @rethahill
Location: Phoenix
Summary: To inform and engage communities, CitySeed will be a mobile application that allows users to plant the "seed" of an idea and share it with others. For example, a person might come across a great spot for a community garden. At that moment, the person can use the CitySeed app to "geotag" the idea, which links it to an exact location. Others can look at the place-based ideas, debate and hopefully act on them. The project aims to increase the number of people informed about and engaged with their communities by breaking down community issues into bite-size settings.

Bio: Retha Hill is the director of the New Media Innovation Lab and professor of practice at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The innovative laboratory conducts research and development for the media industry. She joined the Cronkite School in fall 2007. Previously, Hill was vice president for content development for BET Interactive, where she was the executive in charge of content strategy, convergence and integration with the BET Network. She worked for The Washington Post Company in a variety of capacities, including as a reporter and a founding editor of Washingtonpost.com. Hill also is the owner of Painted Desert Media, LLC, a Phoenix-based media consulting company.

Cody Shotwell has lived in downtown Phoenix since 2008. A fresh graduate of the Masters of Mass Communication program at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Seattle-area native keeps his fingers on the pulse of the journalism community through his day job as web coordinator at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

*****

PRX StoryMarket
Award: $75,000
Winner: Jake Shapiro, PRX
Web URL: www.prx.org
Twitter: @jakeshapiro
Location: Boston
Summary: Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner Spot.us, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.

Bio: Jake Shapiro is CEO of PRX, The Public Radio Exchange, an online marketplace connecting stations, producers and the public. Since its launch in 2003, PRX has been a leading innovator in public media, pioneering new digital distribution models and social media applications. In 2008, PRX received the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Prior to joining PRX, Shapiro was associate director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where he remains on the Fellows Advisory Board. Shapiro is also an independent musician and has recorded and performed on guitar and cello with numerous groups, most frequently with original rock band Two Ton Shoe.

*****

Tilemapping
Award: $74,000
Winner: Eric Gundersen, Development Seed
Web URL: www.developmentseed.org
Twitter: @ericg
Location: Washington, D.C.
Summary: To inspire residents to learn about local issues, Tilemapping will help local media create hyper-local, data-filled maps for their websites and blogs. Journalists will be able to tell more textured stories, while residents will be able to draw connections to their physical communities in new ways. The tools will be tested in Washington, D.C. Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps used to crowdsource reports on places needing aid.

Bio: Eric Gundersen is the president and co-founder of Development Seed. Over the past seven years, Gundersen has developed communications strategies and tools for some of the largest international development organizations in the world, in addition to working with U.S.-based public health and education organizations. He is especially interested in improving information flows within large organizations and visualizing information in actionable ways.

Gundersen, a 2009 winner of the Federal 100 award for his contributions to government technology, earned his master's in international development from American University in Washington, D.C., and has dual bachelor's degrees in economics and international relations. He co-founded Development Seed while researching technology access and microfinance in Peru. Before starting Development Seed, Gundersen was a journalist in Washington, D.C. writing on the environment and national security.

*****

What do you think about the winning grantees? Which are you most excited about? What do you think is missing among the winners? Share your thoughts in the comments.

18:30

Announcing the 2010 Knight News Challenge winners: Visuals are hot, and businesses are big winners

They started out last year as a crowded field of hopefuls from around the world, each dreaming of a chance to perform under the big lights. Over months, their numbers dwindled as the level of competition rose; each successive round brought new disappointment to those eliminated and new hope to those left in the running. And now, whittled down to an elite few, they’re ready for the global stage.

Okay, I’m giving myself a yellow card: So maybe the World Cup isn’t the perfect metaphor for the Knight News Challenge. But the News Challenge is the closest thing the future-of-news space has to a World Cup, and while this year’s 12 winners — just announced at MIT — won’t be forced to battle each other for global supremacy, they do represent the top of a sizable pyramid of applicants — nearly 2,500 in all. You can judge for yourself which ones are Brazil and Germany and which are New Zealand and North Korea.

I’ve got information on all the winners below, but first a few observations:

Visuals seem to be this year’s theme: lots of projects about things like mapping, data visualization, video editing, and games inspired by editorial cartoons. Just one winner focuses on the business-model end of the equation (Windy Citizen’s real-time ads).

— This year’s new grants total $2.74 million. That’s up from last year’s total of $1.96 million, but still down substantially from the really big checks Knight was writing in the first two years of the News Challenge ($11.7 million in 2007, $5.5 million in 2008). The number of grantees is also up a bit from 2009 but well below earlier years (26 in 2007, 16 in 2008, 9 in 2009, 12 this year).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Knight’s overall commitment has decreased over time. Many of its grants are distributed over multiple years, so some of those early commitments are still being in force.

— Despite extending this cycle’s application deadline in part to encourage more international applicants, the winners are quite domestic — 11 American winners out of 12. In 2008, there were six international winners, and last year there were two projects that, while technically based in the U.S., were internationally focused — Ushahidi and Mobile Media Toolkit. (You could argue that this year’s One-Eight should count as international, since it’s about covering Afghanistan, but through collaboration with the U.S. military. And while Tilemapping will focus on Washington, D.C., a version of its software was used after the Haiti earthquake.)

That said, the deadline extension was also about reaching out for other kinds of diversity, and that happened in at least one way: Knight reports that nearly half of this year’s winners are private companies, up from 15 percent in 2009. That’s despite Knight’s elimination of a separate category for commercial applicants last cycle.

Below are all the winners — congratulations to one and all, and my sympathies to the thousands eliminated along the way. In the coming days, we’ll have profiles of all of the winners and their projects. In the meantime, for context, you can also read all we wrote about last year’s News Challenge and what we’ve written so far about this cycle.

CityTracking

The winner: Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design

The amount: $400,000

The pitch: “To make municipal data easy to understand, CityTracking will allow users to create embeddable data visualizations that are appealing enough to spread virally and that are as easy to share as photos and videos. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others. The creators will use high design standards, making the visuals beautiful as well as useful.”

The Cartoonist

The winner: Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz

The amount: $378,000

The pitch: “To engage readers in the news, this project will create a free tool that produces cartoon-like current event games — the game equivalent of editorial cartoons. The simplified tools will be created with busy journalists and editors in mind, people who have the pulse of their community but don’t have a background in game development. By answering a series of questions about the major actors in a news event and making value judgments about their actions, The Cartoonist will automatically propose game rules and images. The games aim to help the sites draw readers and inspire them to explore the news.”

Local Wiki

The winner: Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov of DavisWiki.org

The amount: $350,000

The pitch: “Based on the successful DavisWiki.org in Davis, Calif., this project will create enhanced tools for local wikis, a new form of media that makes it easy for people to learn and share their own unique community knowledge. Members will be able to post articles about anything they like, edit others and upload photos and files. This grant will help create the specialized open-source software that makes the wiki possible and help communities develop, launch and sustain local wiki projects.”

WindyCitizen’s Real Time Ads

The winner: Brad Flora of WindyCitizen.com

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “As a way to help online startups become sustainable, this project will develop an improved software interface to help sites create and sell what are known as real-time ads. These ads are designed to be engaging as they constantly change showing the latest message or post from the advertisers Twitter account, Facebook page or blog. Challenge winner Brad Flora helped pioneer the idea on his Chicago news site, WindyCitizen.com.”

GoMap Riga

The winner: Marcis Rubenis and Kristofs Blaus

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To inspire people to get involved in their community, this project will create a live, online map with local news and activities. GoMap Riga will pull some content from the Web and place it automatically on the map. Residents will be able to add their own news, pictures and videos while discussing what is happening around them. GoMap Riga will be integrated with the major existing social networks and allow civic participation through mobile technology. The project will be tested in Riga, Latvia, and ultimately be applicable in other cities.”

Order in the Court 2.0

The winner: John Davidow of WBUR

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To foster greater access to the judicial process, this project will create a laboratory in a Boston courtroom to help establish best practices for digital coverage that can be replicated and adopted throughout the nation. While the legislative and executive branches have incorporated new technologies and social media, the courts still operate under the video and audio recording standards established in the 1970s and ’80s. The courtroom will have a designated area for live blogging via a Wi-Fi network and the ability to live-stream court proceedings to the public. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts court system, the project will publish the daily docket on the Web and build a knowledge wiki for the public with common legal terms.”

Porch Forum

The winner: Michael Wood-Lewis of Front Porch Forum

The amount: $220,000

The pitch: “To help residents connect with others and their community, this grant will help rebuild and enhance a successful community news site, expand it to more towns and release the software so other organizations, anywhere can use it. The Front Porch Forum, a virtual town hall space, helps residents share and discuss local news, build community and increase engagement. The site, currently serving 25 Vermont towns, will expand to 250.”

One-Eight

The winner: Teru Kuwayama

The amount: $202,000

The pitch: “Broadening the perspectives that surround U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, this project will chronicle a battalion by combining reporting from embedded journalists with user-generated content from the Marines themselves. The troops, recently authorized to use social media while deployed, and their families will be key audiences for the online journal steering, challenging and augmenting the coverage with their feedback. The approach will directly serve the stakeholders and inform the wider public by bringing in on-the-ground views on military issues and the execution of U.S. foreign policy.”

Stroome

The winner: USC Annenberg’s Nonny de la Peña and Tom Grasty

The amount: $200,000

The pitch: “To simplify the production of news video, Stroome will create a virtual video-editing studio. There, correspondents, editors and producers will be able to upload and share content, edit and remix with friends and colleagues — all without using expensive satellite truck technology. The site will launch as eyewitness video — often captured by mobile phones or webcams — is becoming a key component of news coverage, generating demand for supporting tools.”

CitySeed

The winner: Arizona State’s Retha Hill and Cody Shotwell

The amount: $90,000

The pitch: “To inform and engage communities, CitySeed will be a mobile application that allows users to plant the ’seed’ of an idea and share it with others. For example, a person might come across a great spot for a community garden. At that moment, the person can use the CitySeed app to geotag the idea, which links it to an exact location. Others can look at the place-based ideas, debate and hopefully act on them. The project aims to increase the number of people informed about and engaged with their communities by breaking down community issues into bite-size settings.”

StoryMarket

The winner: Jake Shapiro of PRX

The amount: $75,000

The pitch: “Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner Spot.us, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.”

Tilemapping

The winner: Eric Gundersen of Development Seed

The amount: $74,000

The pitch: “To inspire residents to learn about local issues, Tilemapping will help local media create hyper-local, data-filled maps for their websites and blogs. Journalists will be able to tell more textured stories, while residents will be able to draw connections to their physical communities in new ways. The tools will be tested in Washington, D.C. Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps used to crowdsource reports on places needing aid.”

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