Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

Spoiler alert: Users will win Knight’s mobile News Challenge

August 15, 2012


Think of it as the Race to the Top for news. This year, the Knight News Challenge is putting its money where its mouth is, leveraging its annual grants behind what it believes are journalism’s biggest opportunities.

By limiting entries to three areas — networks and data, now closed, and, opening Aug. 29, mobile — Knight is not only concentrating the $5 million in funding, as well as support, it directly awards, it is also focusing the attention of the hundreds drawn by the chance for a share of such a large prize, just like Race for the Top.

With apologies to Red Sanders, here, winning is not the only thing. Wikileaks, for all its impact, was a News Challenge runner-up in 2009.

And, with apologies to those still recovering from Olympic spoilers, spoiler alert, the real winner of 2012’s final Challenge round will be users.

Users win because mobile gets content creators, developers and designers to focus on them.

When screen space and bandwidth are at a premium, publishers cut out the editorial fat and silence the interactive bells and whistles.

When the platform travels with the user, publishers steer content to them rather than luring them to the content.

When, almost whoever you are, your friends, family and neighbors are likely fellow users, the generative benefits of community increase.

When traditional technological followers, who, due to their lack of infrastructure, leapfrog traditional technological leaders in the mobile revolution, a larger, more diverse population of users tests ideas sooner.

When publishers create for devices that are increasingly young users’ first, and sometimes only, exposure to the greater outside world, they gain insight into the expectations and behaviors these users will manifest when they become participatory consumers.

So, congratulations users. As a user of at least six CMSes who assists end-users when their gears start to grind, trust me, you’ve earned it.

Now that you know who wins, this time, aren’t you even more excited to watch the race? I know I am. I might even run in it.

Creative Commons photo by Ken Banks,


More with less: Mobile innovations from all 7 continents

January 22, 2012


More with less. Whether it refers to the daily wonder that we’re carrying in our pocket or purse several times the computing power that once required entire floors, or to the growing demands a fragmenting media landscape places on shrinking legacy brands, perhaps no other single phrase so succinctly captures the triumphs and trevails of the digital age.

With mobile, the adage describes the challenge and opportunity of doing what we did before, plus all kinds of fun, visually and locationally aware new stuff on a smaller screen and, depending on the hardware and network involved, varying degrees of limitations on data speed and usage, connectivity and battery life.

Like a good copy editor, the constraints force all involved to focus on what matters: More signal, less noise.

Like a good copy editor, the constraints force developers, designers and content producers to focus on what matters, often resulting in a better user experience: More signal, less noise.

If you want to know where innovation will arise, just look at the limits. From poor cellphone users in India, to the lack of Internet infrastructure in Kenya to a saturated app market in the United States, here are seven ways, from all seven continents, mobile practitioners are doing more with less.

ASIA: Missed call ecosystem (India)

Everybody makes them and gets them. But most people, in the West at least, probably have not thought about using them. In India, missed calls, the “poor man’s text message,” are used all the time, by people, by apps, even by infrastructure.

From GigaOM, here are a few things Indians are doing with free missed calls:

  • Friends, family or business associates might place a missed call to communicate a pre-determined message or, if the recipient is able and willing to pay for a text or call back (incoming calls and texts are free in India), to signal that they would like to communicate.
  • After receiving a missed call at a designated number, a system developed by a cloud telephony company and Bangalore-based partner will call users back with dynamic information, such as the current daily deal or real-time bus schedule.
  • By attaching a receiver and SIM card, to authenticate that the call is coming from an authorized number, to a switch, startup RealTech Systems created a device that lets farmers turn on and off irrigation systems remotely, saving them from miles-long walks.

AFRICA: Texting lions (Kenya)

In East Africa, the lions are disappearing, in part because herders poison them to protect the livestock they depend on to earn a living.

If herders knew where the lions were, the thinking goes, they could instead just move their animals away from danger. Once you collar the lions with GPS units, which must be easier said than done, tracking the animals is a straightforward enough task to accomplish over a wireless or satellite network. But what if you’re in a place without established Internet infrastructure, like East Africa?

Attaching a simple modem to the lions’ collars as well, as New York-based research company Ground Lab, with the help of nonprofits, has done in Kenya, makes it possible to send lions’ locations to a centralized computer via text message, a potential model for other machine-to-machine communication across the Internet of Things, according to this Atlantic Wire summary.

EUROPE : The French Mobile Revolution

They’re calling it the French Mobile Revolution. Revolution? Yes, and one that might just spread to other nations.

When you learn it’s giving customers unlimited voice, text messages and data for the equivalent of $25.50 a month, you may start to nod your head. When you learn how Internet service provider Free is doing it, you may start head-banging.

It’s doing it, coverage by GigaOM’s Mobilize blog and PC World explains, by networking five million customers’ set-top boxes. Within range of others customers’ boxes, nanocells for data, and, being phased in now, femtocells for voice and SMS, provide Wi-Fi-quality service. Out of range, traditional towers, a 3G network, which will throttle customers who consume more than 3 GB of data in a month, and roaming agreements with other providers, fill in the gaps.

While since Free Mobile’s launch earlier this month competitors have cut prices some, because their networks depend on large, costly cell sites and antennas that took years to build out, they can’t hope to compete with Free Mobile on price long-term. 

NORTH AMERICA: Rate everything! Ever-y-thing (United States)

It’s funny ’cause it’s true?

The people behind what many assumed to be a joke app are acting kinda serious, releasing a second native version, for Android in addition to iPhone, and an API.

You’ll get more laughs if you let the above video explain it, but, the app, Jotly, in short, lets users rate anything, then snap a photo of it, tag it and geolocate it.

Yesterday, for instance, I gave the Baltimore area’s first snowstorm of the season – pretty and easy to clean up, but icy and with minimal accumulation – a “C”.

Whether Jotly indeed started off as joke or the jokes completely on us, you can decide for yourself. Either way, even if it’s not the “Best. App. Ever.” as the Web versions of users’ posts proclaim, it’s brillant commentary on marketing hype, feature creep and over-sharing in a crowded mobile app marketplace.

In a way, Jotly is the “Seinfeld” of apps. It’s about nothing, and everything, it parodies itself, it’s as one reviewer put it
, “Dumb and awesome all at once.” In short, it’s so F- it’s an A+.

AUSTRALIA: Training mojos in indigenous communities

At the heart of any mobile content, or any interactive feature for that matter, is the story, not the technology. That mantra is the focus of a government-funded citizen journalism project in Australia, NT Mojos, which seeks to give indigenous residents living in remote areas the tools and training to produce and share videos about their lives.

It’s hoped that the project provides other Australians a less marginalized view of their neighbors, promotes education and literacy in the indigenous community, and establishes enough of a foundation and momentum to sustain itself after the initial outreach has ended.

After training, which, according to an article on MobileActive, focuses on journalism fundamentals including media law, newly minted mobile journalists report, shoot, edit and upload videos on whatever topics they see fit, all on an iPhone 4 and, typically, a 3G network.

The former broadcast journalist behind the model, Ivo Burum, has launched a version in China, is adapting it for schools and educates others how to implement it on his blog.  

SOUTH AMERICA: Learning, 160 characters at a time (Brazil)

From augmented reality then-and-now historical tours, to apps that measure air pollution, to self-adaptive virtual tutors, mobile phones are doing things for education that as recently as my high school days might have seemed like science fiction.

These more spectacular m-learning implementations, of course, use smartphones. The root of their power, however, is their interactivity, which even the simplest phones, through the versatile text message, deliver just as well.

In Brazil, where smartphone adoption lags behind North American and Western European markets, SMS subscription services prepare students for a national high school exam and teach them English, among other subjects, The Next Web highlights.

With their immediacy, intimacy, simplicity and brevity, text messages have the power to be a tremendously engaging teaching tool, even more so than many flashy apps.

ANTARCTICA: Here, in fashion and tech, trends are trivial

If you’re not a scientist, it’s one of the last refuges from our hyper-connected society, and even with a purpose, and the resources, staying plugged in in the Antarctic can be difficult.

But in a place where self-sufficiency is not just a virtue but a necessity, the accessibility, versatility and generativity of personal mobile devices are a space-saving, time-saving and potentially life-saving addition to researchers’ and adventurers’ toolbelts.

Accordingly, users follow pragmatism, not trends, when choosing a mobile operating system. Linux-based Maemo 5 was a “longtime favorite due to its compatibility and expandability with virtually everything,” a May post on The Noisecast blog says. But last spring, iOS moved into the lead, according to the post, which speculated about iPhone’s and iPad’s enterprise, academic and clinical potential.

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user David Paul Ohmer

Fast Times at Digital Harbor High: Catching the spirit of Education Hack Day

November 22, 2011


What sounded like a rad concert, the weekend and the majority of the “best time of your life” ahead of them, two college girls at the back of the downtown shuttle were wrapped up in that morning’s psychology test.

“The first part was so hard!” the duo’s navigator said, ticking off the cross streets as the bus lumbered south.

Her companion concurred.

“That’s why I did the first part last,” she said.

It turns out she completed the exam all out of order, jumping among and within sections, pouncing on questions she knew she knew and “half-answering” — tracing the answer bubble but not shading it yet — ones she was less confident about.

Non-linear learning

We all don’t take tests that way. Maybe we should. If question order can affect the outcome of a survey, certainly it can change the result of a test. But we all learn that way. In our minds, the shortest distance between information and knowledge is rarely a straight line, especially one someone else drew.

Unfortunately, our education system, developed for the industrial age, from grouping students by age to all-or-nothing accountability systems, still favors linear, assembly-line-like approaches.

In our minds, the shortest distance between information and knowledge is rarely a straight line, especially one someone else drew. 

Over a whirlwind weekend of brainstorming, researching, coding and building at Baltimore’s first Education Hack Day, 70 developers, designers and teachers demonstrated the non-linear path of discovery and, it’s hoped, through the 10 products they built, helped enable it for some of the city’s 83,800 students.

No matter what becomes of the products created at the Nov. 12-13 event — detailed in the sidebar below — schools, or any institution for that matter, can benefit by channeling its spirit.

Who’s got spirit?

Hack day organizers — hundreds of similar events have been held across the county, including a government data hack day in Baltimore last February — are taking quite a gamble, if you think about it. They spend no small amount of their and others’ time, money and resources rounding up space, equipment, participants, sponsors and online and IRL audiences without much assurance of the result.

They trust that folks they’ve never necessarily met and who’ve never necessarily met each other will have useful products to show the final night. Almost always, they do. They certainly did two weekends ago (see sidebar video). And along the way they learn not only about technology but also about problem-solving, about each other and about themselves.

It’s so backward it seems surprising that it works. But that’s precisely why it does. Baltimore developer Mike Subelsky, in announcing his own radical project, summed it up well: “You can only get good ideas by working on real problems.”

A to B learning:
Efficient, but limited

We’re used to, and, let’s face it, bored by, the A to B approach. Someone who’s been to B directs you how to get there from A. It’s efficient, but limited. Because you don’t have agency in where you’re going or in how you get there, you put less into it.

Before we “know enough to be dangerous,” this is generally how we learn the fundamentals of a trade, process or craft. If you’re training to drive the downtown shuttle, one of your first steps will be to ride along with an experienced driver. Even if you’re bored, you, the girls dissecting their psych test in the back and their fellow downtown commuters are safer for it.

B from A learning:
Inefficient, but limitless

We’re not used to, and energized by the B from A approach. Someone places you at A and says, “Here is everything you need to get to B. I can’t wait to see what B is!” It’s inefficient, but limitless. Because you have agency in where you’re going and in how you get there, you put your all into it.

Once we’ve mastered the fundamentals, or, yes, “know enough to be dangerous,” this is how we grow, often through failure. If you’re asked to improve buses’ gas mileage, the new stop locations or times, maintenance procedures or bike rack design you come up with might teach you something unexpected or generate other benefits.

Hack the classroom

There’s a reason they have hack days, and not hack weeks, of course. (Do they have hack weeks?) Ask a grad student: Going full bore for days on end is not sustainable. (There is no coffee strong enough, not even from New Orleans or Panama.) That there is light at the end of the tunnel is part of the draw. “Suck it up. One way or another, we’re all presenting this time tomorrow. It’ll all be over soon!”

My grading’s unfair? Design your own system. My reviews are boring? Help each other prepare for the test (and share a grade).

All the more reason for educators of all disciplines to hold their own “hack days” from time to time. My grading’s unfair? Design your own system. My reviews are boring? Help each other prepare for the test (and share a grade). We just got new iPads for the class. Give me five ways we could use them.

If students, or parents or colleagues or the principal don’t like the break the from the book, they’ll be back to regular programming soon enough. I think before they are, though, they’ll catch the spirit, too. They’ll be itching for the next hack.

Original Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Parker Michael Knight

ALSO SEE: Hack Day wish list a window into educators’ world — and our shared future

Hack Day wish list a window into educators’ world ??? and our shared future

November 9, 2011


Whatever happens this weekend at Education Hack Day at Digital Harbor High School, the inaugural event has already succeeded by surfacing such thoughtful proposals from educators on how technology might make learning more efficient, responsive and rewarding for students in Baltimore and beyond.

Asked what problems they would like developers to address, teachers and school officials went straight to offering solutions. Demonstrating a nuanced understanding of technology’s abilities and limitations while revealing institutional and cultural symptoms technology alone cannot treat, their creative but pragmatic responses should be required reading for anyone who tries to control or critique the difficult work they do.


See for yourself on the hack-a-thon’s website and distribute up to 10 votes among the ideas you like. I’m supporting the eight listed below. My favorites grow the audience and generativity of students’ work through sharing and turn potentially distracting mobile devices into instruments of learning. Oh, the classroom noise meter is also one I’m loud on. And foreign language chat roulette is too cool for words, in any tongue.

‘Share work and projects with parents/family and other teachers’

Suggested by Billy Michels

So many projects are completed and sent home and nobody gets to see them but me. I want to connect the families with the classroom more. Show work of all students, share ideas, etc.


‘Hey Teacher’

Suggested by Andrew Coy 

I wish there was a way for a student to “raise” their hand with a web tool or iOS app that would send a push notification over wifi to the teacher. The teacher then could have a que of students instead of having students call out or raise hands.

‘Bring native foreign language speakers into my classroom via Skype’

Suggested by Henry van Wagenberg

What if there was a fun “language learning” video chat roulette where my students could pick the language they want to learn, and a foreign student from that country popped up to chat live in that language?

‘Science animations in HTML5’

Suggested by Mark Davis

Almost every animation online (from mitosis, meiosis, seasons, moon phases, states of matter – you name it!) are all flash. Many teachers have classroom sets of iPads but still need to walk down to the clunky computer lab to learn from animations.

‘A volume meter for the classroom like yak tracker but for iPod’

Suggested by Justin

A leveled meter to remind students of the noise level in the room. Green good, yellow a bit noisey and red too lound. Once they get to that level an alarm will sound.



‘I wish there was an app that could work with a positive behavior system’

Suggested by Charlie Gerancher

The application would work in conjunction with a positive behavior system. It would allow teachers and administrators to award different types of digital badges that would be compiled within the system. The system would also have a mobile interface to provide a way for schools to integrate the use of handheld devices by students in a positive manner.

‘Create a database of good story problems’

Suggested by Scott Messinger

It’s hard to think of good, rigorous story problems for students. It would be nice to have a database curriculum writers could use to enter and organize the story problems. Teachers in the district could log on and print off relevant problems for use in the classroom.

‘Get permission slips filled out and signed by parents’

Suggested by Paul Genge

Right now our parents have to fill out the same information ten or more times per year. If there were a way to get their information and a “fresh” signature somehow then that would save an enormous amount of time and energy for parents and teachers.

Learn more about Education Hack Day in this Bmore Media article or on the event’s website. Demos of the resulting apps, scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday, are free and open to the public, but organizers ask that guests register.

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user opensourceway

ALSO SEE: Fast Times at Digital Harbor High: Catching the spirit of Education Hack Day

Baltimore’s burgeoning mobile app economy

October 25, 2011

Out of basements and grandparents’ guest rooms, during meetups at the city’s tech incubator and across distributed workforces who bond over barbecues, Baltimore’s slice of what’s expected to soon be a $25 billion industry is filling in.

Through the eyes of three entrepenuers, my paper’s technology reporter, Gus Sentementes, told the beginning of this developing story Sunday, comparing it to the e-commerce explosion of the 90s.

Right now, when most people hear the word “app,” they think native app. As a proponent of Web apps, I was pleased to see Gus give them a mention and so succinctly explain the difference between the two kinds. 

 Read his article on your mobile device or on your PC.


What’s Baltimore building?

The developers Gus profiled, who for the most part are doing work for clients such as Johns Hopkins University, the National Archives and Long & Foster rather than marketing directly to consumers, favor iPhone and iPad native apps. So, unfortunately, this Droid boy can’t play with a lot of their creations.

Nonetheless, I was curious about just what’s being built here in Baltimore. Here are some featured apps by the companies mentioned in Gus’s story and others with Baltimore ties. If you have the right device, give ’em a spin and share your take in the comments on how the developers are representing Charm City.

Mindgrub: Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus

iPhone | Free

Campus guide gives walking directions, guided tours, tells what’s nearby and tracks construction and renovations.

Shawn’s Bits: PosePad

iPad | $4.99

Photoshoot organizer lets photographers save example poses, append notes and hand-drawn lighting diagrams and order and classify it all to complement their workflow.

Campfire Apps: Henry’s Spooky Headlamp

iPhone and iPad | Free

Seek and find game for preschoolers. Players tap and hold to move light beam and hunt for spooky objects.

Accella*: Today’s Document

iPhone, iPad and Android | Free

Showcases a daily National Archives document tied to that day in history. Users can jump forward or back a day, choose an arbitrary day, or, like a pre-Web (in some cases, pre-electricity) StumbleUpon, ask for a random one. Documents’ backstories and favoriting ability also included.

* Distributed workforce, based in Baltimore, is principally in the Mid-Alantic

Parking Panda+

Web app | Free (developer gets 20% of each sale)

Matches owners of unused parking spaces with drivers and processes transactions between parties. Owners indicate when the spot is available, upload photos and details, name their price and let the app handle the rest. Drivers can enter their destination and search ahead of time or browse spots closest to their current location.

+ Launched in Baltimore, now based in New York

Dilly Dally Apps: Happy Hour Baltimore

iPhone | Free

Locate bars and restaurants offering specials, events like trivia or amentities like outdoor seating. Receive “dispatches” straight from proprietors. Call a cab.

Baltimore 311^

iPhone, Android and Web app

Tell the city government about safety and quality-of-life issues like felled trees, misleading signs and grafitti and track when yours or others’ requests are acted upon. Data is additionally posted to an automated Twitter feed. Built on Open 311 standard.

^ Developed by New Hampshire-based Connected Bits

MGH: Ocean City, MD – Official App

iPhone and Android | Free

Guide to the beach resort town developed for Ocean City, MD Department of Tourism. Helps users hunt for real-time deals, accommodations, dining, activities, events and services and keep an eye on Twitter updates and weather reports.

Latman Interactive: Qach!

iPhone and Android | Free

Game: Save the ducks by catching and juggling falling eggs until they hatch.

Global Apptitude: Ravens iPad playbook

iPad | Proprietary

The Ravens are one of two NFL teams to replace binders with computer tablets. The app lets players check playbooks, watch film and review motivational messages. To keep game plans from leaking to rivals, data are set to self-destruct shortly after each contest.

Creative Commons image by Flickr user llimllib