Six Media Innovation Ventures Awarded More than $1.37 Million as Winners of Knight News Challenge on Networks

[Source: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, June 18, 2012]

Funding will accelerate breakthrough projects that leverage existing networks to create new ways for informing and engaging communities
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Ranging from an aggregator of mobile video streams of breaking news to a platform that coordinates community disaster recovery, six media innovation ventures were awarded more than $1.37 million as winners of the Knight News Challenge on Networks.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the winners today at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference, the leading gathering of innovators shaping the future of news and information.
For the first time this year, Knight Foundation is hosting three separate News Challenges, with each centered on spurring innovation in different areas. The first round on networks will accelerate six breakthrough projects that build on existing networks, such as Ustream or Twitter, to create new ways for informing and engaging communities. In addition to funding, winners receive support from Knight’s network of peers and advisers who can help advance their projects.
The winning ventures are:  
  • – Leveraging streaming networks like Ustream and TweetCaster, Peepol.TV will aggregate live mobile video streams of breaking news events into an easily searchable world map, connecting users directly to global events as they unfold.
  • – After a tornado destroyed their Massachusetts home, two sisters created an online organizing platform that helps disaster-stricken communities quickly launch recovery efforts. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, enables communities to launch a website that ensures that heightened news attention translates into donations, volunteers and more.
  • – Enabling newsrooms to monitor what is resonating with readers and make smarter editorial decisions about which stories get covered and promoted, is a dashboard that tracks stories through social networks and across competitor sites.
  • Watchup – An iPad app that makes it easier to find and watch high-quality news videos, Watchup speeds the search for relevant content by offering a curated playlist that aggregates news reports into a simple interface.
  • Behavio – Behavio is an open-source platform that turns phones into smart sensors of people’s real world behavior – from how they use their phones to how they communicate with others. Funding will be used to help programmers build apps with smarter sensors, create tools for journalists that uncover trends in community data and launch a mobile application that allows individuals to explore data about their lives.
  • Tor Project – With journalists and their sources increasingly threatened by governments, criminal organizations and others who monitor their mobile and online communication, the Tor Project will use its vast network of volunteers to create a tool kit that will enable journalists to communicate more safely with sources by using the organization’s secure Web browser, an anonymous upload utility and more.
“The future of our democracy depends on the quality and reliability of the generally shared information communities receive,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “How that information is received and shared will depend on innovative uses of digital technology that is rapidly evolving.  Since we’re just at the beginning of that technological revolution, it is hugely important to support innovators like these, who are pushing the boundaries of our understanding of news and community information.”
Knight Foundation is the nation’s leading funder of journalism and media innovation. Founded by newsmen John S. and James L. Knight, the foundation launched the Knight News Challenge in 2007 to find the next generation of innovations that help communities get the information they need.
Two of the winners – and Watchup – are receiving funding through the Knight Enterprise Fund, an early-stage venture fund that invests in for-profit ventures aligned with Knight’s mission of fostering informed and engaged communities.
Knight Foundation is running the News Challenge three times in 2012, in shorter, more focused rounds that better mirror the pace of innovation. The first, on networks, culminated with today’s announcement. The second, on data, accepted applications through June 21. The topic of the third will be announced later this year.
Over the challenge’s six years, Knight Foundation has reviewed more than 13,000 applications and funded 80 projects for $27 million. Winners include leading Internet entrepreneurs, emerging media innovators and traditional newsrooms. Their projects have been adopted by large media organizations and are having an impact.
DocumentCloud, which helps journalists analyze, annotate and publish original-source documents, is being used by more than 300 newsrooms nationwide. Meanwhile, hNews, a project by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and the Media Standards Trust, has been integrated into more than 1,200 news sites. It allows readers to see the source of information in online articles.
Winners of the Knight News Challenge on Networks
Award: $355,000
Winners: Nadav Aharony, Alan Gardner and Cody Sumter
Twitter: @behav_io, @nadavaha, @alan_gardner, @codys
Summary: Behavio wants to open access to, and help make sense of, the data routinely collected by mobile phones. The open source Android platform turns phones into smart sensors of people’s real world behavior and surroundings, sensing how people use their phones, how they communicate with others in addition to environmental factors like sound, light and motion. As a result, Behavio can understand trends and behavior changes in individuals as well as entire communities, and help them understand and make use of this information. With News Challenge funding, Behavio will create a software development kit for programmers to build apps with smarter sensors, build a set of tools for journalists and others who want to see trends in community data, and launch a mobile application that allows individuals to explore data about their lives.
Bios: Nadav Aharony is a product manager in the Android team at Google. He recently completed his dissertation at MIT Media Lab’s Human Dynamics research group. His research areas include social network dynamics, mobile sensing, communication technologies, information security and privacy. Aharony was a fellow for three years at the MIT Center for Civic Media, working on mobile and social activism topics. He holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees from the MIT Media Lab, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering cum laude from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Aharony holds patents in social mobile networking, machine learning, network algorithms and sensor technologies.
Alan Gardner is an entrepreneur, software engineer and consultant on big data, distributed systems, Web development and mobile applications (iOS & Android). After receiving his bachelor’s in physics from MIT, he engineered search applications at Endeca (now Oracle). As technical cofounder of Smoopa, he created a system for real-time analytics on over 50 million price changes across the Web, plus a mobile application to scan barcodes and view price summaries. Most recently, Gardner worked at MIT Media Lab to build technologies that capture the power of personal and sensor data from mobile devices, which resulted in Behavio.
Cody Sumter graduated with his masters in the Technology Policy Program at the MIT Media Lab, where he worked on using cellphones as a sensor platform to understand human behavior. With a computer science degree from Truman State University, he spent time prior to MIT working with large-scale data visualizations, analytics and web development. Sumter was involved in Truman’s astrophysics research program, working on and leading several projects at the Truman and Lowell Observatories. In addition, he served for several years as a member of several governmental boards and part of the legislative staff of a Missouri senator. Also:
Award: $360,000
Winners: Felipe Heusser and Jeff Warren
Twitter:  @fheusser
Summary: Live streaming breaking news has proved its potential – but hasn’t yet reached it. aims to change that by creating a streamlined platform for posting, finding and watching live streams from around the world. The team will build a searchable map, aggregate streams from other sources, create topic curation and add features like music and social media interaction. The idea grew from a mini-media innovation challenge at last year’s MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference.
Bios: Felipe Heusser is a researcher in the field of transparency and a citizen activist using web technology as a mean for civic organizing. Founder and director of, Heusser is a Berkman Fellow at Harvard University, Ashoka Fellow, and co-founder of and Sú Felipe has served as director of the Personal Democracy Forum- Latin America, senior advisor for the Ministry of Labor and consultant for the Open Data research project at ECLAC-United Nations and IDRC-Canada. Heusser is a lawyer graduated from the Universidad Católica of Chile and has a master’s in public policy from the London School of Economics where he is also a Ph.D. candidate in government.
Jeff Warren is the creator of and co-founder and research director for the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, where he designs mapping and civic science tools and professionally flies balloons and kites. Notable software he has created include the vector-mapping framework Cartagen and orthorectification tool MapKnitter. He is a fellow at MIT's Center for Civic Media and an advocate of open source software, hardware and data. He co-founded Vestal Design, a graphic/interaction design firm in 2004, and directed the Cut&Paste Labs project, a yearlong series of workshops on open source tools and web design in 2006-7 with Lima designer Diego Rotalde. Warren has a master’s from MIT and a bachelor’s in architecture from Yale University.
Award: $340,000
Winners: Caitria O’Neill, Alvin Liang and Morgan O’Neill
Twitter: @recovers_org
Summary: When a tornado touched down in her Massachusetts yard, Caitria O’Neill and her neighbors struggled to match the sudden wave of resources with massive community needs. While large aid organizations can deliver significant resources, in each disaster untrained local volunteers must help structure unofficial resources long-term. O’Neill and her sister Morgan O’Neill teamed up with engineer Alvin Liang to create, and to build and deliver Web tools and local hubs for disaster recovery efforts. Their online organizing platform, located at [], can be launched before or immediately after an event, to turn interest into aid. Already their platform has helped turn the post-disaster spike in interest into money, supplies and volunteers in five communities. Post-disaster launches are pro-bono, but the team licenses the software to areas interested in preparing and enabling the community’s response. The platform is already being used ahead of a disaster for preparation and community organizing in five communities nationwide.
Bios: Caitria O’Neill is the CEO of She received a B.A. degree in government from Harvard University in 2011. She has worked for Harvard Law Review and the U.S. State Department, and brings legal, political and editorial experience to the team. O’Neill has completed the certificate programs for FEMA’s National Incident Management System 700 and 800, and Incident Command Systems 100 and 200. She has also worked with Emergency Management Directors, regional hospital and public health organizations and regional Homeland Security chapters to develop partnerships and educate stakeholders about local organization and communication following disasters.
Alvin Liang is the technical lead for and a software engineer who believes good code can change the world. He has helped adapt a crash reporting and mobile performance monitoring platform to operate on millions of mobile phones as one of the early employees at Crittercism, and designed user interfaces at LabLife. Liang graduated from MIT with B.S. degrees in biology and computer science in 2005, and received an M.Eng. degree in computer science in 2008.
Morgan O’Neill is the operational lead for, and has over three years of experience in political campaigns, ranging from city council races to a presidential election. O’Neill is also a MA-certified EMT-B and actively volunteers for an ambulance service and the Red Cross. She earned a B.S. degree in physics from the University of New Hampshire and is now studying hurricane dynamics for her Ph.D. at MIT.
Award: *undisclosed
Winners: Mohamed Nanabhay and Haroon Meer
Twitter: @mohamed, @haroonmeer
Summary: With newsrooms stretched for resources, editors have to increasingly make difficult decisions about which stories get covered and promoted. aims to help, by tracking social engagement with the news – scanning social network activity to provide real-time information on what’s resonating with readers. Editors are able to track their own ­– and competitors’ –  stories. will sort not just headlines but news topics – to spot trends and spikes in interest. Mohamed Nanabhay, former head of online at Al Jazeera English, saw the potential for providing richer editorial analytics to newsrooms while leading his organizations’ award-winning coverage of the Arab Spring. He cofounded with Haroon Meer to extract the signal from the noise and close the loop between what audiences are interested in and what editors focus resources on.
Bios: Mohamed Nanabhay was the head of online at Al Jazeera English where he led the team that produced the award winning coverage of the Arab revolutions in 2011. During his tenure, the website saw a colossal increase in traffic and was recognized by the Online News Association for general excellence in online journalism. Previously he founded Al Jazeera’s new media group, which focused on engaging audiences through social media and emerging technologies. Nanabhay studied computer science and history at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and has a master’s degree in international relations (with distinction) from the University of Cambridge.
Haroon Meer founded Thinkst, a company that solves complex problems through applied research for Fortune 500 companies and leading social networking and media companies. Previously he was the technical director of Sensepost, an information security company that was acquired by SecureData in 2007. Over the past decade and a half he has contributed to several books, tools and papers on breaking things before mending his ways and building tools to extract the signal from the noise.
Award: $320,000
Winner: Andrew Lewman and Karen Reilly of Tor Project
Twitter: @torproject, @akareilly
Summary: With world press freedom threatened, journalists and their sources are often monitored by governments, criminal organizations and others who track their mobile and online communication to see who is talking to the press. To help protect reporters and their sources, The Tor Project will use its vast network of volunteers to create a tool kit for journalists. The kit will include The Tor Project’s secure Web browser and anonymous upload utility, along with new tools and training videos.
Bio: Karen Reilly is development director at The Tor Project, where she is responsible for fund raising, advocacy, general marketing and policy outreach programs. Tor is software and a volunteer network that enables people to circumvent censorship and guard their privacy online. She studied government and international politics at George Mason University.
Andrew Lewman is executive director of The Tor Project, a nonprofit organization providing research and free software that protects online privacy and anonymity. Lewman manages The Tor Project’s business operations, customer support, law enforcement liaison and advocacy roles and serves on its board of directors. He has helped Tor grow from a small group of volunteers to a successful company with a global reach and thousands of volunteers. He has worked on projects with the National Science Foundation, Internews Network, Freedom House, Google, Broadcasting Board of Governors, National Network to End Domestic Violence, U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. State Department.
Award: *undisclosed
Winners: Adriano Farano and Jonathan Lundell
Twitter: @watchup, @farano
Summary: Watchup is an iPad application that will help people find high-quality news videos. While identifying relevant content is often time-consuming, Watchup speeds the process with a curated playlist that aggregates news reports from a variety of networks into a simple interface. The service plans to sustain itself by selling video advertising on the site. Watchup will partner with major media organizations in the United States.
Bios: Adriano Farano is the CEO and cofounder of Watchup. A passionate entrepreneur with a 12-year background in the news business, Farano fell in love with tablets during his 2010-11 Knight Fellowship at Stanford where he researched new ways to augment the news experience on mobile devices.
Jonathan Lundell is the CTO and cofounder of Watchup. Lundell is an experienced and versatile hardware and software architect with a passion for iOS. An active contributor to the award-winning Python framework Web2py, he coauthored the book Web2py Application Development Cookbook.
*In line with standard venture-capital practices, the funding amounts are not being disclosed.