Social Networking as a Problem-Solving Strategy?

Posted on 13. Dec, 2009 by in General, John Smock

Last week, a team of MIT students won an online challange proposed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

It took a group of MIT students nine hours to locate all 10 balloons hidden across the U.S.

It took a group of MIT students nine hours to locate all 10 balloons hidden across the U.S.

Here’s how it worked:

DARPA offered a $40,000 prize to the first group to locate 10 giant red weather balloons anchored  in secret locations across the U.S. Competitors were asked to used social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter to discover the locations of the balloons. The goal, DARPA said, was to see how well social networking works as a problem-solving strategy.

Turns out, it works pretty well.

Nearly 4,000 groups registered, and they were given nine days to locate all 10 balloons.

It took the MIT students nine hours.

Nine hours. And they weren’t even in it for the prize money. The students set up a website, and started encouraging people to contribute information about the whereabouts of the balloons for a share of the prize money. They were able to locate the eight-foot balloons in Northern and Southern California, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Virginia and Delaware.

Who really knows what the Pentagon plans to take away from the experiment in the long run. And maybe people would have been less enthusiastic about joining in had there not been prize money involved. But it’s interesting to see what our preferred method of procrastination and stalking…er, information gathering, is really capable, given the opportunity.

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