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.
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.