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.