Friday, December 11, 2009

Red balloons and social networking

A great story, here, about the use of social media to solve a difficult computational problem.

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.

They MIT team relied on incentives akin to Tupperware parties:

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.

The result:

On Saturday morning the balloons went up, and by the end of the day the MIT team — which consisted of postdocs Riley Crane and Manuel Cebrian and grad students Galen Pickard, Anmol Madan, and Wei Pan — had won the competition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And then there's the charitable approach, as exemplified by the 2nd place team, Georgia Tech:

"One of their initial decisions was that if they should win, the prize would be donated to the American Red Cross -- rather than being split among the team members and balloon spotters. Team members believe that was important to attracting altruistic volunteers.
“One thing that surprised us was that many balloon reporters specifically chose our team because we had decided to donate the winnings,” said Betty Whitaker, a GTRI principal research scientist who helped coordinate the team. “We pledged any winnings to charity to encourage recruitment and avoid complicated issues with money after the contest.” The competition also showed how much could be done on a budget of just $200, which was what the “I Spy A Red Balloon” team spent in total."
(from Ga Tech Facebook site).