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

Twitter Raises another $100 million. Twitter now valued at approximately 1 Billion dollars.

Jessica Vascellaro at the Wall Street Journal is breaking the news today that the social media mavens at Twitter.com are raising an additional $100 million in venture capital, giving Twitter a new valuation close to  (insert Austin Powers voice here)  one billion dollars.

Jessica notes that previous funding valued the company at about 255 million.    The new funding round not only confirms that Twitter is now a key major online player but will give them huge resources to continue rapid growth and expansion and perhaps even marketing, although one of Twitter’s brilliancies is that it needs an advertising budget of zero.   Twitter is the ultimate “word of mouth” tool for the online generation and everybody from celebrities to businesses are using the tool to create a dialog with fans, customers, and friends.     Where Facebook is powerful as a tool for maintaining relationships with friends and family, Twitter is superior as the fast and superficial way to keep in touch, “shout out” a message to the world, and generally manage large networks of customers, friends, conference attendees, etc.     There’s room for several social networking tools but I think we’ll  see both Facebook and Twitter continue to thrive and grow substantially in the coming years.

As we’ve been noting for some time Twitter represents something of a “perfect online storm”  where timing, simplicity, and social media are combined in a way that appeals to both sophisticated and new technology users.    The last time we saw this combination of innovation with the technological zeitgeist was Google search, and we all know how that turned out.

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Twitter as a new online paradigm

Like it or not, Twitter’s spectacular and explosive growth is unprecedented and in my opinion may herald something of a new era in broad based social media participation.     Unlike Myspace and Facebook, Twitter appears to be popular pretty much across the entire US demographic landscape and is making significant inroads into foreign markets.    Perhaps most significantly Twitter is doing this pretty much by word of mouth and huge free exposure on network news and celebrity TV.   Twitter is growing rapidly without spending more than a trivial amount (if any) on marketing.

TechCrunch is citing Compete.com statistics showing 19 million vistors to Twitter last mont, up some 95% … per month.    At that growth rate the service could surpass *all other applications* within a year.    The recent increase was fueled by a celebrity onslaught of Oprah’s Twitter debut and the hugely popular Ashton Kutcher vs CNN Twitter duel and this is unlikely to repeat every month, but even at last year’s growth rate of very roughly 1000% Twitter will be very huge very soon.     Facebook and Google continue to remain very solidly in control of much of the online landscape with hundreds of millions using those services but it’s now very clear that Twitter is in the social media game in a big way.

With a simple and intuitive interface, a 140 character limit on comment size, ten second sign up, celebrities, and superficial content, it’s easy to see why this service is popular among mainstream users as well as businesses who want to be able to push out content to “followers” quickly and easily.

TechCrunch has a good report here

Top Technology Stories of 2008

Update:  Don’t miss our upcoming CES 2011 live coverage here at Technology Report

Techmeme is a favorite of many in technology for pulling together technology stories and the conversations that often swirl around them.  Unlike a simple “ranking” system, TechMeme surfaces the top stories and then links out to blogs and sites that are discussing those “hot topics”.     Thus a quick review of TechMeme can give you a very fast orientation to the stories that are making their rounds in the blogs.    That does not always correspond to stories that actually *matter* to real folks, but it’s a great start.

TechMeme’s new story editor Megan has a list here of the top 10 for 2008.   Number one was the Microsoft – Yahoo aquisition saga, number two was Apple quitting MacWorld, and number three was Google Chrome.


Disclosure: Long on YHOO

Facebook Rules with Social Tools

Today Facebook launches a social media initiative that is significant enough to possibly become a web milestone, depending on how the developer community views and uses all the new capabilities that Facebook is offering to them.

Rafe Needleman‘s got a video of the conference today and Techcrunch will, as usual, have insightful summary of the implications of all this.

Based on my quick first look into what they are up to this really looks like a brilliant move, and a sign they won’t be selling to a bigger player, rather trying to rise up and eat the bigger fish.

If Facebook can capture the imagination of enough developers and become “the” key platform for social media they’ll likely be very glad to have turned down the billion+ dollar buyout offers earlier this year.

At the least Mark Z and his crew deserve huge props for going for the gusto and offering to take the development community along for the ride.  This is not only great stuff for Facebook and social media evangelism, this appears to be consistent with the grand and open internet community vision that one hopes will ultimately prevail.

Jimmy Wales on Charlie Rose

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, discusses his Wikia search projectand the internet. He’s the chairman of Wikia, Inc. He thinks it’ll be 2-3 years before they have a robust product.

“Democratic, participatory” search project.
“Google, Yahoo, Ask” have similar, proprietary and closed search. He wants to break up the idea that a few companies should be so dominant.

Making search ubiquitous. He thinks Google may not have problems with WIKIA because they can keep matching up ads, advertisers, and buyers as they have been.

Wales thinks Facebook made the right decision to turn down Yahoo’s billion+ offer for Facebook, calling it an “interesting gamble”. “He’s a pretty sharp guy” (Zuckerman), and Wales thinks that unlike Myspace, Facebook is doing right by the customers. Notes increase of spam and advertising intensity of Myspace.

Wikia major initiatives: Search, Reference Works for humor, opinion, sports. 66 languages plus a “Klingon language” project. “Roll this revolution” into many other areas. What makes the internet great is that it’s a “global platform for people to share knowledge”. Keeping it “open” appears to be a key guiding principle for Wales, and his admirable efforts at Wikipedia support his sincerity in that mission.

Wales suggests that Firefox is the best browser, primarily due to features that he sees as the result of the open source development model that created Firefox.    He says that monopolistic activity by Microsoft has slowed innovation, but feels that Google is a friend of Open Source.     Wales recounted telling Bill Gates at Davos that Microsoft search is so bad people are switching away from it as the Vista default, and suggests that he’ll have fun trying to build a better search than Google with Wikia.

Bebos, billions, and why Yahoo is starting to piss me off.

Yahoo may buy Bebo, the British “Myspace”, for a billion dollars. That is a LOT of money – about 3% of Yahoo’s market cap. Presumably this, like Yahoo’s unsuccessful Facebook aquisition attempt, is Yahoo’s approach to recapturing the market dominance it enjoyed back in the day. Dominance through the aquisition of a social network rather than developing their own.

They should know better than to trust their existing criteria for decisions about aquisitions. Yahoo is the company that aquired Overture’s pay per click technology years ago, and then managed to cede dominance in that area to Google. Ever heard of Google? Yahoo probably could have *owned* Google, but it seems higher management didn’t think search had the monetization potential of … broadcast.com which was purchased for billions.

Isn’t it time for top management at Yahoo to let innovation, not aquisitions, rule the day? This approach has worked very well for Google, who’s main mistakes now appear to be in aquiring things like YouTube which in my opinion is unlikely to recover YouTube’s 1.6 billion price tag and will certainly pester Google with big money lawsuits for decades. Yahoo’s still got a LOT of great technical people, especially in the developer and new business divisions. More importantly, the world is producing hundreds of thousands of new, brilliant innovators every year, most of whom are chomping at the bit to bring new and exciting innovation to the hungry online world. Why not devote the billions to this rather than purchasing companies with marginal revenues and long term prospects that are more hope and prayer than reality?

With the latest flurry of high priced aquistions it almost seems like, to the big players, the billion dollar deal is the new million dollar deal. I remain skeptical that deals of this size pay off in the long run – certainly very, very few of the early pre-bubble ones did not pay off for companies. I’d suggest that the smaller deals (e.g. Flickr) do have potential, but that Yahoo’s top management is looking for a killer deal that simply does exist while the innovation approach (ie much, MUCH more support to the core values and teams at Yahoo) is starting them in the face. Traffic? Yahoo’s got plenty of it. Modest changes can send millions of Yahoo users to any new idea, so why not do this *a lot more* and test *a lot more ideas*.

Edison suggested that there is always a better way, and it’s time for Yahoo to ….. find it.

More Bebo-logy from Techmeme:

Yahoo may net Bebo owners $1bn

 

 

Bebo/YHOO: My Rumor’s Bigger Than Yours

Yahoo May Be Bidding For Social Network Bebo: Report

Yahoo: When You Can’t Buy Facebook, You Buy Bebo

Bebo is not for sale


Twitter and SEO

Interesting.   My Chico the Wonder Dog SEO experiment is yielding some unexpected results.    A tweet about this is now higher in the ranks than the original blog post page.

Chico the Wonder Dog has been trading places with another Chico the Wonder Dog.   That post is much older and may have more incoming links since that guy seems to spend more time posting about his dog than I do, though based on my quick analysis of this and a few other cases I think it indicates that Google looks carefully at the rate of link growth, and if it slows they tend to put back the “old, tried and true” page in favor of the newcomer. This makes sense from an anti-spam perspective although in Chicos particular case it probably does not yield the top dog.

However, the Twitter reference rising to high seems really surprising because Twitter posts are generally small and insignificant (as it is here).  I’m surprised Google ranks these at all, let alone makes them competitive with meaty postings.  Perhaps Google has elevated “social media” in some algorithmic fashion though my guess is this is a defect that will be corrected – ie Twitter is structured in a way that links to these posts from many Twitter people and this is messing up the Algo’s handing of this insignificant material.    If I’m searching for “Tesla Coil”, let along pretty much anything of any relevance, I hardly want a bunch of Twitter posts!

Pew Study – new web stuff is catching on *fast*, not slow!

Matthew Ingram has got it right when he suggests that the recent Pew study results are an indication that many, not few people are engaged in Web 2.0. Several headlines about the study suggest, oddly, that there is some sort of tech elite who participates in web stuff when in fact the study is a powerful indication that the social internet is thriving and getting adopted by a broad spectrum of society rather than an elite group.

Click here for the Pew study with these key findings:

8% of Americans are deep users of the participatory Web and mobile applications.

23% are heavy, pragmatic tech adopters – they use gadgets to keep up with social networks or be productive at work.

10% rely on mobile devices for voice, texting, or entertainment.

10% use information gadgets, but find it a hassle.

49% of Americans only occasionally use modern gadgetry and many others bristle at electronic connectivity.

MORE:  Wow – I don’t think I’ve ever seen research so hopelessly misinterpreted as these findings.  Perhaps those writing about this like the idea of being a “tech elite” so they interpret accordingly?

The significant finding was that only 15% are “offline”.     Hmmm – compare this to 10 years ago when only about 15% were “online”.   This is called “rapid adoption” rather than “tech elitism”.

Off the network (15 percent)
People in this group, tending to be 65 or older, do not have a cell phone or Internet access. Some have computers or digital cameras.