Knight News Challenge

The Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Winners receive a share of $5 million in funding and support from Knight’s network of influential peers and advisors to help advance their ideas. The first round of 2013, which opens in February, will invite innovators from all disciplines to focus on tools for open government. In 2012, three challenge rounds, each focused on an emerging trend, drew more than 2,500 entries.

Challenge 1 - on NETWORKS: Winners were announced June 18.

Challenge 2 - on DATA: Winners were announced Sept. 20.

Challenge 3 – on MOBILE: Winners were announced Jan. 17.

Anyone, anywhere can apply for the challenge - whether for-profit start-ups or non-profit ventures. For more information on a variety of topics - from guidelines for for-profits, on intellectual property licensing, open source software and more - visit our FAQ.

Byzantium: a Spatial Communications Environment

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1. What is your project? [1 sentence]

Byzantium is a new type of open source spatial communications environment (compatible with WorldMap designed to give outsiders better local knowledge by making relevant materials from historic and contemporary archives available to users in the field in the required form, at the time and place required, to support navigation, data analysis and knowledge sharing.

2. How will your project use mobile tools and approaches? [2 sentences]

The system will allow individuals and groups to view, create, and share geospatial information in the field without requiring internet access by caching data on the local device and using a version control system to sync with the cloud when connectivity is available, monitor the status and location of others in a group, define geofences to generate notifications based on the underlying datasets, such as: “You are 5 km from the Turkmenestan province of Mary where the main language is Baroch” or “You are currently in de-mined section AB-4 within the Boribo river basin” or “You are within 0.5 km from a protest site proposed for 5pm this evening”. Fine-grained control over privacy settings will be a fundamental element of the system, while communications will be secured using 256-bit AES encryption and an option of Tor-style anonymization.

3. Who will use it and why? [1 sentence]

Researchers will use the system to simplify recording and organizing spatialized information in the field; journalists will use the platform to build stories in the field, spatially placing quotes and media even when away from a mobile connection, which can be automatically uploaded for viewing and editing by colleagues; activists will be able to view and add to collective attestations made about their immediate surroundings which could allow for utterances of subversion and the organization of protests in closed societies; the general public could use it to build wiki-style overlays which could include anything from historical images to collective geo-blogs.

4. Please list three ways they would learn about your project.

We will establish an active twitter presence and advertise through various Harvard communities such as the WorldMap project, the Center for Geographic Analysis, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the Harvard School of Public Health. We will also advertise through groups we work with outside Harvard such as Crisis Mappers and the Open Geospatial Consortium.

5. What connections have you made, or will you make, with others [communities, organizations or networks] about your project? [2 sentences]

We will work with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and the Crisis Mappers community, and OpenGeo on system requirements and design, we will solicit input from the Berkman Center on security.  We also have connections with the MIT CSAIL community where there are others working on distributed mobile platforms.

6. What part of the project have you already built? [1-2 sentences, feel free to include links]

The underlying massively scalable geoprocessing engine, GEOPS, is currently operational and data display prototypes have been developed (, The design of WorldMap ( provides a template for how to organize and overlay 1000s of user-contributed datasets in real-time for client-side viewing and analysis.

7. What does success for your project look like? [1-2 sentences]

Success will be making a significant contribution to the way spatial data is leveraged and collected in the field.  Longer term we would like the project to be self-sustaining and imagine a business model similar to GitHub, in which users can upload an unlimited number of public annotations and map layers for free but a quota is placed on the amount of private and group-restricted information that can be uploaded, after which users (or organizations) pay a nominal fee for use of the service.  

8. What resources do you need to succeed? [1-2 sentences]

We will need the equivalent of two developers working for two years, plus hosting.

Additional details:
Please list who is on your team:
Todd Mostak, inventor of the GEOPS (a big geospatial data analysis platform running on commodity GPUs and capable of processing billions of features per second) and Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Benjamin Lewis, project manager of WorldMap at the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis.
Expected number of months to complete project:  24
Estimated Project Cost:   $342,000
Labor: two developers for two years: $288,000
Hosting:  $1000/month or $24,000
System design: $30,000
Name:  Byzantium
Twitter:  @byzantium
Email address:
Organization [if applicable]:
City:  Cambridge, MA
Country: USA
How did you learn about the contest? We learned about it from Harvard colleague Jesse Shapins of the Zeega project who recommended we apply.