Red Balloons

DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) recently launched a contest wherein participants have up to nine days to identify the location of ten red balloons.  The large weather balloons were launched in secret locations around the United States. The winners are awarded $40,000.

The rules are relatively loose: the balloons, which each measure eight feet in diameter, will be placed at fixed locations that are easily accessible and visible from nearby roads but will only be visible for one day. More than 300 teams have already signed up to take part and officials expect a number – from offering a reward online to sifting through various social networking sites to scan for sightings of the balloons.

So.  The balloons are pretty large, but they’re only visible for a day.

Competitors were asked to use the internet and social networking sites to discover the whereabouts of the balloons, in what Darpa – the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – said was an experiment to discover how the internet could help with rapid problem solving.

The contest was launched this past Saturday, so we’ll have to wait and see how long it will take…….oh, wait.  It’s done.

MIT won the challenge in hours.

The MIT team leveraged social networks to find the balloons, and promised all of the prize money to the people that joined their challenge team.

The MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team is interested in studying information flow in social networks, so if we win, we’re giving all the money away to the people who help us find the balloons! […]

Have all your friends sign up using your personalized invitation. If anyone you invite, or anyone they invite, or anyone they invite (…and so on) win money, then so will you!

We’re giving $2000 per balloon to the first person to send us the correct coordinates, but that’s not all — we’re also giving $1000 to the person who invited them. Then we’re giving $500 whoever invited the inviter, and $250 to whoever invited them, and so on..

Brilliant.  And, apparently, effective.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around this, because I’ve got this niggling feeling that this is an important exercise.  A group has been mobilized throughout the world, based only on loose connections.  As a result, the group was able to solve a problem in hours rather than days.  All of this using Facebook, and Twitter, and other social networks.

The implications of this are far-reaching. And it makes me wonder – how else might we use this?

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2 Comments

Filed under Miscellaneous, Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."

2 responses to “Red Balloons

  1. ian

    or….. to put a different spin on things — organizing on the internet WITH weather balloons!

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