Monday, December 7, 2009

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) won the challenge to find ten 8-foot (2.4 metre) weather balloons spread across the continental United States, just nine hours after the event’s start. In a test of the nation’s social networking skills, the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) offered US$40,000 (26,900) to the first team to identify the location of all ten balloons. The event marks the 40th anniversary of ARPAnet, the precursor to today’s Internet, a project developed by DARPA.

In a statement announcing the winner, DARPA said “the Challenge explores basic research issues such as mobilization, collaboration, and trust in diverse social networking constructs and could serve to fuel innovation across a wide spectrum of applications.” They also stated that they intend to “meet with teams to review the approaches and strategies used to build networks, collect information, and participate in the Challenge.”

The MIT team offered a reward scheme of its own as an incentive to public cooperation, offering US$2,000 to anyone who gave them the coordinates of a balloon. They also gave US$500 to whomever invited the person who gave the correct coordinates to join the challenge. They then gave the person who invited that person US$250, and so on, giving any left over or unclaimed money to charity. The MIT team hoped to ” […] find out how information spreads on the internet, and how online social networks help this spread”.