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Credit: By vinodvv aka vcube on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

"If you're a young Indian, not in one of the big cities, and you've got yourself a cheap smartphone and you got the internet in your hand for the first time in your life, what kind of news platform would actually function?"

That's the question Hasit Shah, a co-founder of Ketla, set off to answer.

Ketla, an app that provides news in comic book form in India, won a $35,000 (£22,700) grant from the Knight Foundation's Prototype Fund this week.

Chris Barr, director, media innovation at the Knight Foundation, said Shah and his team were "building a tool to make it easier to distribute news comics and specifically have ways to easily distribute them in multiple languages."

Shah has researched how the fast growing numbers of internet users in India impact on the digital news market in the country, looking at the devices they are using, the type of connectivity, and the languages spoken.

We're hoping the comics are an engaging and shareable form of storytellingHasit Shah, Ketla
Ketla's stories will be designed as a "swipe-able comic of maybe 8 frames", and the app will not be text-heavy or include any video "so it doesn't take up too much bandwidth".

While publishing journalism in a comic-book format is not a new storytelling style, it has seen a recent surge in popularity as social media users tend to share more visual content.

Illustrating stories this way can also be an opportunity to add visuals to news where sources need to remain anonymous, or when the images would otherwise be too graphic.

Working on Ketla alongside Shah are graphic journalist Dan Archer and Erin Polgreen, co-founder of non-fiction comics app Symbolia.

"We're hoping the comics are an engaging and shareable form of storytelling," Shah added.

He told Ketla's comics would focus on "essential information", including news stories ranging from sports events to crime.

But the app will also include "information that will make your day easier", such as getting the word out about free medical services, for example.

While the founding team is based in the US, Shah wants Ketla to be a "genuinely Indian product". He hopes the art for the stories, as well as the development work including the coding and data research, will be done in India.

Receiving the grant, designed to cover six months of work, means the team can focus on building the product and travelling to India to research their audience.

"Once that's done, we're in a position to go [back] to India and see if it actually works and make the revisions and iterations that are necessary," he explained.

When Ketla launches, it will start off with stories produced in Gujarati, a language spoken in the Western Indian region of Gujarat that Shah speaks as well.

If it can be successful there, the team can start thinking about bringing the app to other parts of the country and covering stories in different languages, he said. "There is no such thing as a small audience in India."

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