DARPA Red Balloon Challenge – Social Media Information or Disinformation?

The DARPA Red Balloon project launched 10 weather balloons across the USA this morning in a well publicized effort to gauge the power of social media in completing the task of finding all balloons and reporting their lat and long coordinates back to DARPA.   The first person or team to do that wins  $40,000

Many teams have sprung up across the country and are acting competitively – I think probably because of the large payout – making the project very different from a simple test of crowdsourcing where the social media “universe” might work together for the fun of the game, reporting the coordinates publicly.     As of 2:40 PM EST we have no winner and I can’t even find a single online reference to a lat long location of a balloon.

Secretiveness appears to be trumping the social media crowdsourcing here, so I’m not sure DARPA is measuring things as advertised – though maybe they also wanted to look at the deception / competition angle.

More from my post at JoeDuck.com:

DARPA – the advanced technology research wing of the US Military – is always coming up with the most fun research and today’s Red Balloon social media experiment is no exception to that rule.

Ten huge red weather balloons were launched this morning at 10am EST and DARPA will pay 40,000 to the first team or person that can identify all the balloons by number and latitude / longitude.

Now, in my view as a social media expert (aka a web surfer), DARPA’s payout of 40,000 is distorting the experiment in a confusing way, encouraging secretiveness and deception rather than cooperation.    That may be intentional, but I think they wanted people to “really try” and wrongly felt this was the best way to do it.    All of the serious efforts I’ve seen so far are actually  *discouraging* people from using the power of social media to find the balloons, instead asking them to email or phone in sightings and then in some cases share in the proceeds, in other cases promising to give them to charity.

DARPA should consider repeating this experiment as a TWITTER crowdsource where there is NO money offered and each report is posted at Twitter where the crowd can sort the fakes from the real data.    I think that task would likely only take minutes rather than the hours the current project appears to need to get a complete result from the secretive teams.

Here are more stories  about the DARPA Red Balloons:

Wall Street Journal: Spot 10 Balloons, Win $40,000

Gizmodo:  DARPA’s Giant Red Balloons Officially at Large

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