Monday, December 7, 2009

DARPA balloon challenge - how social networks perform under pressure

MIT won last Saturday’s DARPA balloon challenge. The Defense Department’s research agency paid a $40,000 prize to the first party to correctly identify the exact location (longitude, latitude) of ten red 8-foot weather balloons anchored in public places around the U.S. It was an experiment to test the response and behavior of social networks toward a large-scale, time-specific task.

I learned about it Friday night from my college daughter back east. I quickly attempted to mobilize the geekiest members of my personal network. (yes, if you got a message from me on Saturday, I consider you a geek.) Taxing my RAM, my computer screen flickered e-mail, Facebook, Twitter accounts and other websites all day.  I called a friend who’s an over-the-road trucker, thinking his chances of seeing a balloon were greater. What I needed was LEGIONS of truckers. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the brains at MIT won before sundown. But how?

CNN reported Sunday that MIT incentivized their extensive network and helped it grow by passing on the prize in tiers: $2000 went to anyone who found a balloon and reported its location (let’s call her Alice), $1000 went to the person that referred the finder (B for “Bob”). $500 went to the person that referred that person (“Charlie”), and $250 to the person who referred “Charlie.” MIT’s invitation page:

TIP: grow your network by aggressively rewarding the people who promote your operation. Referrals are golden!

The day before the challenge (Friday 12/4/09) MIT also reported the story to CNN’s citizen reporter page, called “iReport.”  These citizen networks are how news media outlets aim to keep up with social networks in getting the scoop on the news.

QUESTION: how are you regularly surveying your clients and/or involving them in your product/service development?

Yes, this is a glorified story of “word-of-mouth,” still and always the world’s most effective form of advertising. DARPA (and presumably MIT) will report more details on their findings later. See a map of the locations at the DARPA balloon challenge home page.

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