Social Media Could Make You $40,000 Richer

blog post 12-01

The Mission: Locate ten balloons, all in different areas of the country, and give the accurate longitude and latitude of all balloons.

The Catch: None. Unless, of course you do not have the capabilities to travel around the United States in a twenty-four hour span and find the location of all the balloons.

Impossible for the average person, you say? Well, now you might have a dilemma.

Or maybe not. You could take the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s advice and use other outlets, such as social media sites to link up with friends or other technology-savvy Internet users and get the job done.

The DARPA is taking the Internet technology it helped create 40 years ago a step farther this weekend with a contest aimed at bringing people together to solve tough problems.

The competition kicks off Dec. 5 at 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, when DARPA will display 10 8-foot, red weather balloons at undisclosed, publicly accessible sites around the continental United States. The balloons will remain at their locations throughout the day, until sunset.

Norman Whitaker, deputy director of DARPA’s transformational convergence technology office, conceded that it would be nearly impossible for any one person to pinpoint every balloon within the designated time frame. But if the competitors worked together as teams – using social networking forums made possible through the Internet – it is possible, he said.

DARPA admits the Network Challenge isn’t out to identify the answers, but rather, how competitors arrive at them. “We are not interested in the balloons. We already know where those are,” Whitaker said. “It’s the techniques people use to solve the challenge we’re focused on. We have people who are going to be actively watching from the sidelines to see how this plays out.”

Contestants could employ several methods to entice supporters, Whitaker said. For example, he said, they could use a Web site to offer a portion of the prize money to anyone who contributes information about the balloons’ locations. Contestants also could work with a charity, he continued, and donate winnings to its cause. Asking for help through Facebook, I-phone or other Web-based applications might also be feasible, he said.

What other ways do you think social media can be used to complete DARPA’s Challenge? We always want to hear from you, and maybe your idea could be the one used to win the prize.

Visit DARPA’s website to learn more about the Network Challenge.