It’s been an eventful year on MediaShift’s Idea Lab, marked by mergers, beta releases and site redesigns for the many innovators in digital media. This past year also saw the Knight Foundation announce 16 winners of its News Challenge contest, up from 12 grantees in 2010 — and the total prize money hit $4.7 million, thanks in part to a $1 million contribution from Google.

A couple of themes that ran big among the winners this year were data and mobile. We saw the rise of the hacker-journalist, and many projects were focused on making sense of the stream of data — think PANDA, ScraperWiki, OpenBlock Rural, Overview, SwiftRiver and DocumentCloud.

i-6202914ae8f553d0bbfd0d17714901e9-awesomefoundation.png

We also saw new interpretations of journalism, such as NextDrop, a mobile platform that helps people in India find out when water is available; Poderopedia, a crowdsourced database that visualizes the relationships among Chile’s elite; and the Awesome Foundation, which not only has an awesome name, but is using mini-grants to give others a chance to start up projects of their own.

Here’s a look back at just some of the highlights on Idea Lab in 2011.

Just out of beta

Several Knight News Challenge winners announced considerable strides in their projects. The PANDA project, which aims to make basic data analysis quick and easy for news organizations, pushed out a first, and then a second, alpha, adding a login/registration system, dataset search, and complex query support, among other features. It has also been working to integrate directly with fellow News Challenge winner ScraperWiki. “This is speculative at the moment, but has the potential to make the API useful even to novice developers who might not be entirely comfortable writing shell scripts or cron jobs,” explained PANDA’s Christopher Groskopf.

i-07183f9df0d4e097576e4165c431ab27-editing_hangout.jpg
A LocalWiki marathon editing/hang-out session. Image via Philip Neustrom.

In December, LocalWiki, a 2010 Knight News Challenge winner, announced the first major release of its new LocalWiki software and launched its first focus community, serving Denton, Texas. The LocalWiki project is an ambitious effort to create community-owned, living information repositories that will provide much-needed context behind the people, places, and events that shape our communities.

In addition, SocMap.com, another 2010 Knight News Challenge winner, launched a “tweets” and “places” features on its site, along with plans to debut “local initiatives,” “local questions,” and a city-planning game in early 2012. And the Cartoonist, which aims to bring newsgames to the masses, showed off a working prototype of the Cartoonist engine for the first time during a demo day hosted by a Georgia Tech research center.

m&a alive and well

There’s been no shortage of examples of innovation on Idea Lab, and innovation can, and did this year, lead to acquisitions. Spot.Us, a journalism crowdfunding project that was launched in November of 2008, announced that it was acquired by the Public Insight Network, which is part of American Public Media. “I hope that as Spot.Us and PIN merge, we can continue to push the boundaries in transparency and participation in the process of journalism so that media organizations can better serve the public,” Spot.Us founder David Cohn wrote in a post announcing the acquisition.

And earlier in the year, DocumentCloud announced that it had found a long-term home for its project. The startup, which is a catalog of primary source documents and a tool for annotating, organizing and publishing them on the web, merged operations with Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a non-profit grassroots organization committed to fostering excellence in investigative journalism. “IRE has a long and established history of supporting investigative reporting, and we’ll be a proud part of their ongoing work to provide journalists with tools that support their reporting,” Amanda Hickman, DocumentCloud’s former program director, announced.

hacking away

i-a5740e49a821e10343ea3e530cfec6a3-hacktoberfest-circle-thumb-500x219-2094.jpg
Participants gather in a circle at Hacktoberfest. Image via Phillip Smith.

The end of September brought with it a four-day hackathon in Berlin organized by Knight-Mozilla, and bringing together programmers and journalists from all over the world. Dan Sinker, who heads up the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership for Mozilla, wrote about the event, which jokingly became known as “Hacktoberfest,” and followed up with some reflections on data journalism and opportunities for learning.

Just weeks later, Zeega participated in WFMU’s Radiovision Festival, where creative developers and digital storytellers came together for a day of hacking and coding called “Re-Inventing Radio.” At the festival, Zeega shared an ultra-early alpha version of its Zeega editor and three projects for people to experiment with.

Brought to you live

In November, we decided to host a live chat on Twitter on the use of SMS and texting technology by journalists, news organizations, radio shows and more. MobileActive’s Melissa Ulbricht and Sean McDonald of FrontlineSMS were two Knight News Challenge winners who participated in the live chat, in an effort to explain how services and projects are using SMS to help connect people to important news and information in communities where Internet access is limited.

MobileActive released its Mobile Media Toolkit earlier this year, which provides how-to guides, wireless tools, and case studies on how mobile phones are being used for reporting, news broadcasting, and citizen media.

i-05d3fa56440e8f77f1672ec16c9443a3-mobilemedia.png

awards and accolades

A key lesson learned this year was that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to new media. The Tiziano Project beat out both CNN and NPR at the 2011 Online Journalism Awards, taking home the Community Collaboration award for its project 360 Kurdistan — an immersive, nonlinear platform for exploring the culture of the region from the perspectives of both local and professional journalists.

The 2011 award from the Knight Foundation will help the Tiziano Project further develop the 360 technology into a scalable platform that other organizations can use, according to Jon Vidar, the project’s executive director. “We will then curate these future 360s on an interactive map and develop a communication layer that will sit on top, allowing visitors to participate in a universal dialog with our students,” he wrote in a post.

And November saw Knight-Mozilla announce its 2011/12 News Technology fellows. ScraperWiki’s Nicola Hughes and Dan Schultz, a 2007 Knight News Challenge winner and tech wizard extraordinaire for our MediaShift and Idea Lab sites, were two of the innovators who were selected to participate in helping newsrooms around the world develop prototypes for digitally delivering news and information.

No doubt there will be more fantastic innovations and awards to come in 2012! We’re looking forward to sharing them with you here on Idea Lab.

Related