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The Internet Science

MIT and the DARPA Network Challenge 68

mit_team writes "As you might have heard, DARPA has announced a network challenge in the vein of the DARPA Grand Challenge. In this challenge, participants are tasked with finding 10 red weather balloons distributed throughout the continental US for 8 hours on December 5. The idea is to get this to be a crowd-sourcing kind of activity, where people will use social media tools to solve this problem. Our group, the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team, based out of the MIT Media Lab, has created a system where you get money not just for finding balloons, but for getting people to join the hunt who find the balloons, or for getting people who get people who find balloons, etc. First you have to sign up. Then you can send invitations to others to join through your own unique URL, crediting you with recruiting them. While our team is interested in winning the contest, we are also interested in studying information diffusion in social networks. Does Twitter spread information faster than blogs? Is your blog effective at spreading information? We could use your help in getting out the word. If you sign up and blog about us you will be able to see the impact that your blog has on getting out the word in real time. Win money, help science, and help charity! Kind regards, The MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team."
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MIT and the DARPA Network Challenge

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  • Sounds like the URLs people use to try and get the "free" iPods and stuff. I expect to see this all over forums soon.
  • How about (Score:2, Funny)

    by starbugs ( 1670420 )

    By sending this message out to as many people as possible, Microsoft will pay you...

  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:48PM (#30330282) Journal

    Dear esteemed Sir and Madam.

    The University of MIT has lost its Identified Flying Baloons(IFB). We need you to locate them for us.

    Join this work from home opportunity and you can earn part of $40,000 from your one bedroom apartment! *

    If you don't forward this to 100 of your next best friends you will lose out on your chance to have a big enough Multi Level Network to get the reward!

    "Once that happens, we send Dave $2000 for finding the balloon. Carol gets $1000 for inviting Dave, Bob gets $500 for inviting Carol, and Alice gets $250 for inviting Bob. The remaining $250 is donated to charity."

    *(Chances not representative of all entrants. Some terms and conditions apply. See site for details.)

    • []

      I really like this triangular based scheme they've got going there. Everyone knows triangles are the sturdiest shape, so this is a good basis for the transfer of money. These techies should let some investment types in on their cool ideas.

      Also, let's say I sign up directly from MIT and find one balloon, I get $2,000. Awesome, go me. MIT is out $2,000 for that balloon. If my friend Fred had referred me, I get my $2,000 and Fred gets $1,000. Now MIT is out

  • ponzi? (Score:3, Funny)

    by j00r0m4nc3r ( 959816 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:49PM (#30330292)
    Our group, the MIT Red Balloon Challenge Team, based out of the MIT Media Lab, has created a system where you get money not just for finding balloons, but for getting people to join the hunt who find the balloons, or for getting people who get people who find balloons, etc.

    Maybe you could get Bernie Madoff to help.
    • Re:ponzi? (Score:4, Informative)

      by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @07:00PM (#30330398)

      Not every MLM scheme is a ponzi scheme. They do lend themselves to shadiness, but there are some distinctions (which is why Amway, or whatever they call themselves these days, doesn't get prosecuted into oblivion).

      The major distinction is, the flow of money is linked to production of something that serves a goal outside the system. In Amway's case, that would be a sale; in this case, it would be knowledge of the location of a balloon.

  • by Aeros ( 668253 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:51PM (#30330304)
    Will there be a little boy trapped inside each one?
  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <> on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:51PM (#30330312)

    Of course, these charming folks would never dream of using the project to map out, in a loose but enlightening way, the contacts of some of the more net-savvy people around. And keeping that info for future reference, of course.

    Vonnegut would loved it.

    • by maxume ( 22995 )

      They could just check Facebook (I don't mean everybody on Facebook, I mean they could set some net-savvy roots and work from there).

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by Sporkinum ( 655143 )

      The more net-savvy people around don't use twitter or facebook, etc.

      • The more net-savvy people around don't use twitter or facebook, etc.

        Depends. I know several people who could easily be called "net-savvy" who use Facebook to keep in touch with family/friends. And when I say "net-savvy" I'm not talking about people who know how to use Google or Wikipedia to find information, I'm talking about people who administer servers/networks, and participate in "grey hat" operations involving the security of other servers. Contrary to popular stereotypes, most of the sysadmins and peo

      • by ckedge ( 192996 )

        So we can identify them by exclusion!

    • by slcdb ( 317433 )

      No, but they might try to use what they learn to figure out the best strategy for finding something else... or someone else... they'd like to find. *Cough* Osama bin Laden, et. al. *Cough*

    • > ...these charming folks would never dream of using the project to map out,
      > in a loose but enlightening way, the contacts of some of the more net-savvy
      > people around.

      It's all part of the plan these evil geniuses hatched forty years ago when they invented the Internet.

  • by richardkelleher ( 1184251 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:53PM (#30330332) Homepage
    The description of the payouts sounds so much like Amway, I almost ran screaming from the room and torched my computer.
  • Well now... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @06:57PM (#30330368)
    Although it sounds like fun, I can see some flaws in this approach. First off, I think that whatever you don't ask for and lands in your Inbox/IM windows is SPAM if it contains this kind of URLs. People don't ask if you want to participate, they simply assume you would love to participate and will endlessly spam you with mass messages, e-mails and even calls.
    Last time I have encountered such an URL sharing spree was no earlier than a week ago, due to a stupid site that promised that people would win whatever items if they get a certain number of clicks on an unique generated URL, just like it's the case here. All I can say is that I had to sign out from all my IM accounts because of that, and after things cooled down and I started my Yahoo messenger again, it froze due to the sheer amount of offline messages. Turned out that some people sent their bloody link over 1000 times via mass messages. So it's not funny at all, because people all get heated up about it and apply every dirty trick in the book to get an edge over the others:
    - Make redirecting web pages and give you a false link by advertising other stuff.
    - Threaten you to click on the link
    - Beg you
    - Send the link every 10 seconds or so
    ...and so on

    In this particular case, I'm safe (not in the US) but I've had my share in the past. And I don't like it.
  • Bah! Whatever could come of that?

    All I can say is those damned balloons better stay the heck off my lawn.

  • by mtrachtenberg ( 67780 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @07:05PM (#30330438) Homepage

    It's not just spam, it's a spam pyramid scheme. If this doesn't say something about our culture, I don't know what would.

    • by smoker2 ( 750216 )
      The whole 'giving of money' thing is the giveaway. Demonstrate our social networking skills by paying people - yeah that's really healthy.
  • Blondie (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Ssherby ( 1429933 )
    99 red balloons go by....
  • I know it's easy to motivate people by the prospect of making a dollar or two however the money would have a greater impact to a charity.

    We've created a team [] to win this prize and we need your help. However we don't offer a dollar or two, just that you get a say in which charity the prize money will go too.

    Find us on facebook! []
  • 99 Red balloons
    Floating in the winter sky
    Twittering till fingers hurt
    Darpa money going somewhere else
    Web 2 Point O springs to life
    As our tax-dollars slowly fly
    Focusing eyes on the sky
    As ninety-nine red balloons go by

  • Spamford Wallace!

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @07:54PM (#30330930)

    I mean, bulk rate. Like, buttloads of 'em.

  • The future... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by seifried ( 12921 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:27PM (#30331210) Homepage

    "All citizens, a murderer is on the loose. At exactly 4:23pm everyone needs to go outside and look for this man (picture shown on the TV), if you see him call 911 immediately." - paraphrased from Farenheit 451 f memory serves

    This type of thing, if it works would be an incredibly powerful tool in an emergency (you need to find a specific car, a truck with a shipping container, etc.). I'm glad to see DARPA embracing the future they themselves helped create 40 years ago!

  • MIT versus the world (Score:5, Informative)

    by courtarro ( 786894 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @08:31PM (#30331242) Homepage

    MIT's strategy is very interesting. Several groups (like our team []) have been forming their teams for weeks, but MIT appeared on the scene just today, and it's fascinating that they got a front-page Slashdot plug. I give them lots of credit for flooding the scene with mentions in such a short time. Whereas some teams give their winnings to charity (like ours), others entice balloon spotters with cash portions of the earnings, and MIT has decided to do a little of both.

    DARPA is the sole decider of how difficult this competition will be. Will they place the balloons in dense urban areas, or will the launch them in small rural communities?

    Best of luck to all the teams tomorrow, MIT included. I hope that the contest winner will write a paper describing their strategy, both in network-building and in launch-day data collection.

  • Luftballon (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by kindbud ( 90044 )

    Did you ever wonder how many English speakers think "luft" is German for "red" thanks to the English lyrics of Nena's song?

  • Somehow hack some satellites and create a perfect algorithm to locate balloons? No big deal, right?
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday December 04, 2009 @09:56PM (#30331896)
    ... what will our government be doing while we're all looking up in the air?
    • Laughing at you for not RTFA: the balloons are on the ground.

      But seriously, I think what they'll be doing is looking for the red balloons using satellite surveillance. As I've posted before [], I think this is the non-secret half of a cameras-vs-eyeballs contest: can satellites find objects of interest faster than a motivated network of humans?

  • I wonder if it will spread through /.... ;) []
  • That concerns me. What does the Department of Defense need from understanding the intimate social structures of the nation? So, for free, you're going to voluntarily tell the Department of Defense--those who were once involved in the search for Communists during McCarthy's heyday--everybody you have contact with, or influence over?

    Sure, the auspices of the data, in an abstract, non-personally identifying manner, are relevant. But there's another purpose entirely by adding incentive to participate.

    First a

    • by shaka ( 13165 )

      Yeah, spot on.

      Except, of course, the only information being submitted to DARPA is the location of the ten balloons.

      The ones "mapping society" and whatnot are MIT, and all the other teams that participate - teams that are nothing else than loosely connected people trying to accomplish something together.

      So, it's a number of groups of loosely connected people mapping their respective interconnections. It's a true threat to society, I tell you!

      • Well, the MIT terms and conditions suggest that the data will be anonymized for MIT's purposes, so MIT will not use the data in a personally identifiable way. But, the terms and conditions also state:

        "You grant us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully-paid, worldwide, irrevocable license to use, reproduce, adapt, modify, publish, translate, create derivative works from, communicate to the public and display the Tracking Data."

        So, while they limit their own use, they grant themselves the right to provide the

        • by shaka ( 13165 )

          I'm sure you read the fine article.

          The MIT may reserve whichever rights they want, and it still won't be DARPA secretly mapping society.

    • You're looking for red balloons, you say? Red balloons secretly distributed across our nation by members of our own defense department? Just how deep does this conspiracy run?
    • by slcdb ( 317433 )

      Allow me to posit an alternative interpretation. DARPA is not interested in mapping our society. They're interested in learning what the most effective strategies are for quickly locating things that they *know* exist and are "out there", but don't know their exact locations. Perhaps the application of such a strategy could be useful for one of DoD's other pet projects. You know, the one where they're trying to find Osama bin Waldo and his Al Quaedian friends.

      Nah, clearly that would just be too far-fetched

  • Of course I hope people will send me balloon entries at [] but there is a wiki that lists many other teams.
    it is at [].
  • MIT Won (Score:2, Informative)

    by sciencewhiz ( 448595 )

    Congratulations to MIT for winning. []

  • ...had it been won by a group that did not use the Internet at all.

  • if posting the article counts as getting new members...

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.