Friday, December 11, 2009


A social network that ballooned
An MIT team’s savvy use of social media to locate weather balloons as part of a $40,000 DARPA contest may shed light on how to mobilize resources during emergencies.

The U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was holding a competition that weekend: on Saturday morning, 10 large red weather balloons would be raised at undisclosed locations across the United States; the first team to use social media — like online social networks and communication systems — to determine the correct latitude and longitude of all 10 would receive $40,000.

MIT media lab developed a incentive system to test its premises and won the prize.The crux of the MIT team’s approach was the incentive structure it designed — a way of splitting up the prize money among people who helped find a balloon. Whoever provided the balloon’s correct coordinates got $2,000; but whoever invited that person to join the network got $1,000; whoever invited that person got $500; and so on. No matter how long the chain got, the total payment would never quite reach $4,000; whatever was left over went to charity.
This is quite a model concept and MIT as well as DARPA learned about social networking and possible uses of them in emergencies.

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