John S. Knight Fellowship

2011 - 2012

Each year, the John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford offers a small group of journalists from around the world the resources to pursue and test their ideas for improving the quality of news and information reaching the public.

As part of the 2012 class, I was interested in creating an environmental interaction that would immerse community members in the day’s headlines and if all goes well get strangers to talk about the news. I created KON*FAB.

What is KON*FAB?

KON*FAB is a digital newsstand and mobile app that lets strangers share news in real-time and real-places.

Many of us use social-networks and the influence of friends to filter the news. This can quickly become an information silo. Kon*fab helps readers cast a wider net by filtering news through geolocation. This data is made accessible through a mobile app newsreader and location based community display.

The newsreader works by gathering the digital breadcrumbs that are left behind when people tweet the news. These feeds are then parsed and processed to extract geographical location and contextual information for each article.

The digital newsstand employs the same technology as the mobile device. However, the interactive community display expands the window of interaction for readers by tapping into new types of civic spaces popping up in urban environments across the country. The Food Truck, Parklet and Pop-up Shop movements are models for creating inviting, quick and cost efficient platforms for news focused public forums.

What is the overall challenge being addressed?

Most newsreaders are built on predictive behavior algorithms that can lead to an uninspiring repetitious flow of the news. The mission of Kon*Fab is to explore news and information through a more serendipitous paradigm.

Kon*Fab will improve user experience by linking news with the real-time activities of individuals inhabiting physical locations. This alternate model for presenting the news will provide users the opportunity to stumble across new people with new interests resulting in an increased level of interactivity and engagement around news and community (either the one where readers are, or, other geographic communities they might want to explore).

What evidence is there that this approach will work?

A conceptual prototype was designed and built for the newsreader and newsstand by creating an article pool from geographically tagged tweets. We know the idea is doable, now we are pursuing funding and in-kind technical support to debug the code and make design modifications. We can geocode to city level but our goal (what excites us) is developing ways for the user to have access to stories being shared on a more micro-level, such as within communities or neighborhoods.

What's the current status of the project?

Kon*Fab is a finalist for the Knight Foundations prototype grant.