You and I in a little toy shop,
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got.
Set them free at the break of dawn
‘Til one by one, they were gone…
Actually, it’s 99 minus 89, but references to the 1980’s hit by Nena are inevitable. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Internet, DARPA has come up with a creative challenge “that will explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems.”
According to the challenge website ten red, eight-foot weather balloons will be tethered to locations around the United States. The first person (or team) to provide the latitude and longitude of all balloons will win a $40,000 prize.
CNN.com quotes Johanna Jones, a spokeswoman for DARPA, and provides a few more details…
At 10 a.m. ET, the 8-foot-wide red weather balloons will be released on property accessible to the public.
“They’re not going to be out in the middle of nowhere,” Jones said. “They’re going to be near places where there is traffic.”
She said the balloons will be tethered and will remain aloft for at least six hours. Each will be accompanied by a DARPA representative.
The first person to report the latitude and longitude coordinates of all 10 balloons will win the prize. The competition will remain open until December 14.
Nationwide balloon-hunt contest tests online networking
By Doug Gross, CNN
December 4, 2009
So, the balloons will only be aloft for a few hours on one day. That means no individual could travel to all 10 locations. Seekers will be forced to search for references to the balloons and reports in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr. That is, of course, assuming someone reports the sighting and is willing to provide coordinates. If I didn’t already know about the challenge, I doubt I would stop and Tweet about a red balloon, giving its lat/long coordinates.
…Which brings us to the crux of the matter – anyone looking and uploading the information is going to have a vested interest in finding these things. Do you share information, or do you keep it to yourself and hope to find the rest of them by hook or crook? This could be a great way to study how crowds react any time there is a limited resource.
The challenge was actually announced October 29, the accepted birthdate of the Internet. Since then lots of teams have popped up. Some offer a share of the prize money for participation. Some are in it only for the challenge, and vow to donate the prize to charity. All are fiercely competitive. It’s been interesting to visit some of their websites, especially if the have a forum or allow comments. Some of the comments are poachers trying to veer people off to their own websites, or contribute to their own efforts. Good thing this is just cyberspace, or I could see fights breaking out. Even so, there has been talk of sabotaging the challenge by launching fake balloons. I could see it happening. If so, we might even right the namesake number of balloons from the song. We’ll hope it doesn’t come to the same disastrous end as the song.
Of course, I signed up for the challenge. I’m going to be out of commission for the next couple of days, so I figured it would be a good way to spend the time while I’m laid up. I’ll set up a couple of Google Alerts and Yahoo Pipes to scan the InterTubes for references, but I don’t know what I’ll do more than that. I announced my participation via Twitter, and no sooner had I done so than several other seekers started to follow me. I guess they’re hoping that I’ll be one of the ones to share information rather than hoard it. We’ll see.