Time-critical social mobilization

The most recent issue of Science has a very practical and interesting piece on time-critical social mobilization (here’s the non-gated arXiv version).

The article recounts the winning team’s strategy in the DARPA network challenge – a challenge where 10 red weather balloons were placed in locations throughout the US.   The winning MIT team found them all in less than 9 hours: check out their use of the web, tweets, the use of incentives ($40,000), etc.

In terms of incentives, the MIT team used the promised prize money as the incentive — $4,000 for each of the 10 balloons.  $2000 per balloon was promised to the first person sending the balloon coordinates, $1000 to the person who recruited the finder onto the team, $500 to whoever invited the inviter, $250 to whoever invited that person, etc.

Here are some of the other strategies:

  • The second team, from Georgia Tech, used an altruism-based approach (the money would be donated to the Red Cross) – they found nine of the ten balloons.
  • George Hotz, a Twitter celebrity, recruited his followers – he found eight of the ten balloons.

Check out the paper for additional details (lots of cool stuff on networks, recruitment, etc).

Here’s the abstract:

The World Wide Web is commonly seen as a platform that can harness the collective abilities of large numbers of people to accomplish tasks with unprecedented speed, accuracy, and scale. To explore the Web’s ability for social mobilization, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held the DARPA Network Challenge, in which competing teams were asked to locate 10 red weather balloons placed at locations around the continental United States. Using a recursive incentive mechanism that both spread information about the task and incentivized individuals to act, our team was able to find all 10 balloons in less than 9 hours, thus winning the Challenge. We analyzed the theoretical and practical properties of this mechanism and compared it with other approaches.

Here’s where the balloons were located:

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2 Comments on “Time-critical social mobilization”

  1. [...] Time-critical social mobilization (strategyprofs.wordpress.com) [...]

  2. [...] are just that – tools.  It’s what you do with them that counts.  The Obama campaign, the DARPA red balloon challenge, the Real Women of Philadelphia online cooking competition, even President Mubarak’s ousting in [...]


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