Knight News Challenge: QuickContext

Project Title: QuickContext

Requested Amount: $20,000

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 4 – 6 Months

The Description

           “QuickContext” is to be an app running on IOS mobile and android platforms. The basic functionality, along with much of the code, will also be available as extensions for modern web browsers (chrome, firefox, opera). The mobile app will also contain a rudimentary web browser (built from available open source resources), as most mobile operating systems do not allow for multiple apps to run simultaneously and interact. Since our app cannot run on top of an existing browser, we must provide that functionality.

The essential function is to allow users to see in what other contexts and phrasing statistics quoted in news stories are used.  From the perspective of a user, the app would highlight phrases in the article that the app recognizes as statistics in any news articles read by the user. These would be pages loaded from known news sources, as well as any page flagged by the user as a news source (first visit to a new site will prompt the user to flag as news source or not).

If a user clicks on a highlighted statistic, they will be presented with a list titles of articles that contain the same or similar keywords as the article the number was presented, as well as any sentences where keywords present around the selected number are found, and any numbers presented in the articles. The data will be presented in table form, in order of a confidence value to be described later.

On the back end, the app itself can search through articles for numbers fairly easily. The difficulty comes in determining the relative relevance of other articles once the user has searched a specific number. To achieve this the app will first narrow down results by date, searching articles posted within a week to any sources flagged as news by the user, as well as a bank of commonly used sources. Articles with titles that share words with the source article are chosen. If too few articles are found, the time restrictions are relaxed and the search repeated.

The presence of title keywords, as well as similarities in surrounding text and date published are correlated to produce a relevance confidence number, which is used to rank the articles, so that they can be presented to the user in the order of their usefulness. The app will also provide links to the articles to allow the user to follow up any disparities they observe.

The purpose of this is to provide the user with the context they need to understand what they are being shown with a particular number. It’s incredibly easy to editorialize, intentionally or not, with subtleties in how numbers in articles are presented. Seeing how other news articles on similar subjects present that same information can help the user sift through bias and make informed decisions.

How does our project meet an unmet need?

            Millions of readers around the world depend on statistics every day to make decisions. It could be a college student writing a research paper for a class. It could be a journalist writing an editorial to try to make a point to the readers. It could be a mother making the decision of whether or not to vaccinate her child. Statistics lead readers in many directions and can sometimes have the power to change a person’s view. However, what happens when statistics are given out of context?

            Readers of the news or online articles need to be able to understand the statistics they are given and the context that those statistics are given in. Otherwise, statistics can be highly misleading. Sometimes, a misleading statistic can be minor. Other times, it can be harmful, such as for a persuasive journalist. Users need to be able to put statistics in context easily in order to make informed decisions about their lives. QuickContext will give users an easy way to put statistics in context so that they can better understand the news they are being given. It will be convenient and user-friendly to encourage users to put their statistics in context.

           

 

Interviews

Alex Price, a 22-year-old freelance journalist and student at Eastern Michigan University, expresses a love-hate relationship with statistics. “Percentages and numbers are awesome for an article,” Price says. “Sometimes trying to wade through the bad statistics is exhausting though.” Price talks about how statistics can be misleading or taken out of context.

Raj Kadiyala, a 19-year-old college student from India feels that news now is “all about drama – who can deliver the biggest story. And in order to have the biggest story, they sometime use statistics in a misleading way.” Kadiyala says he usually googles information when he suspects of bias or low accuracy.

Frank Grillo, an 80-year-old owner of an international market in New Baltimore, Michigan, hates statistics but must deal with them every day. “I need to read the news and watch the economy for my business,” Grillo says. He explains that he believes the statistics in the news are all meant to scare readers and cannot be trusted without context.  

Simar Singh, a 20 year old UofM student highlights that how data is obtained also plays a big impact on the accuracy of information, which isn’t always given in a newspaper. Singh generally checks data on different newspapers to see if they differ in statistics. “Although the statistics may be accurate and helpful, they should be treated with a certain skepticism” said Singh.

How big is the potential market for your idea?

In the US, according to Business Insider, there are around 165 million active Android and IOS devices, which accounts for 78% of the adult population.  Other smartphone operating systems account for a small part of the current market, so losing that customer base is not of primary concern.  Developing the browser extension for Firefox and chrome gives us access to 58% of the home use market, according to StatCounter. Data also shows that a higher proportion of those users relative to IE are high value young adult users. Politically, where most of our utility lies, 120 Millions voted in the last presidential election cycle.

 

How is your idea innovative?

The current market is filled with statistics apps. Using your phone you can calculate basic t-tests (using Statistics Calculator), analyze medical information (using Medical Statistics Survival) or even compare sports statistics (using Stats Zone). Although those are all useful tools, nothing else compares with QuickContext. The idea of allowing the audience to compare information matches a real problem faced by the general audience. Instead of focusing an app on a specific area of the human knowledge, QuickContext allows you to analyze information from any source, covering any subject. This broader approach to information makes QuickContext a highly innovative tool for readers from all backgrounds with different interests.

From the audience perspective, QuickContext can give one more confidence on the data presented by a given source. Whenever you suspect that numbers are biased, you can easily compare different sources with this free and independent app, and make your own conclusions about the news you read.

From the media-generator perspective, QuickContext can add confidence to the information being conveyed. The more people use this app, the higher the standards for the accuracy of data will be. In that sense, QuickContext will give a positive feedback to our media system.

How will your idea be financially sustainable?

In the early stages the project is expected to lose money. This is because there is no existing revenue model for browser extensions, which will be the first part of the project completed. The extension phase will be used as a testing ground for the algorithm and as a mechanism to build a user base. The app itself is the revenue driver. In the next phase the app itself will be for sale for $1.50 on the apple and android stores. Given the 30% transaction fee both stores charge only 20,000 units need be sold to recoup original funding. In the last phase, given a sufficient user base a switch can be made to a free app utilizing pay per view advertising. At prices as low as $.004 per view, advertising is not a stable model early in the process, but has far more potential earning power.

Why we are the right people for this project:

In order to develop a project like QuickContext, you need members involved that have experience with computer programming, statistics, and marketing. Luckily, Team Awesome has members from diverse backgrounds with a variety of experiences and skills. Adam has experience with computer programming, and many connections in the computer science field to assist with the production of this application. For the large portion of the project that involves statistics, Andreia has studied statistics and can help to wade through the numbers. Finally, QuickContext will require Alexa’s marketing skills in order to get the word out about the project and acquire users. As a collective group, Team Awesome has everything needed to develop QuickContext.

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One Response to “Knight News Challenge: QuickContext”

  1. First: Great team name. Love it. 🙂

    I really like this project concept. There is a need for it. And the timing is good too.

    I would consider simplifying the pitch a little to focus on one main platform or browser — at least to start with. By trying to debut on all platforms and browsers you might be distracted in keeping everything updated and miss out on refining and finessing the idea itself, to try and answer the bigger questions about developing an audience and business model.

    Bottom line on this pitch for me: I’m intrigued. If you’re interested, I want to talk more with you about this. It may dove tail nicely into a project we’re already working on.

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