Social Media and The Red Balloon Challenge

Have you seen this? It’s so cool.

DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) tapped into social networking for it’s latest challenge.

The contest awards $40,000 to the first group to name the exact latitude and longitude of ten red balloons.

The ten weather balloons are scattered across the continental US and remain in the air for one full day. Contestants have a week to locate the balloons and provide the answers.

Since no one person can cover that much territory alone, the groups must rely on social media to help solve the mystery.


The point of the contest wasn’t really to find the balloons (DARPA knew clearly where they were). It was to see how groups could activate social media for a quick and reliable locating of the balloons.

The biggest problem was sifting through the amount of misinformation that was in the blogosphere and particularly on Twitter.

This year’s winners were a group from MIT.

MIT winners

To meet the misinfomation obstacle, the MIT team created incentives for people to sign up trusted friends or acquaintances who might have a chance of spotting balloons.

They split all the DARPA prize money per correct submission: $2000 per balloon to the first person who sent in correct coordinates, $1000 to the person who invited them, $500 to whoever invited the inviter, and $250 to whoever invited them. The last $250 went to charity.

They found all balloons just 9 hours after the first one was placed.

Quite a feat, and tangible evidence of the power of social networks.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What lessons can we learn from this challenge?