DARPA Network Challenge
The recently announced DARPA Network Challenge sought to 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". The challenge was to locate ten moored red weather balloons located at ten fixed locations in the continental United States, offering a $40,000 prize reward for that. The competition took place on December 5th. These are only some thoughts on the challenge, drawing upon some sources I recently read.
How would was the incentive to compete? Well, I do remember very enthusiastic comments from some participants (unfortunately, I did not save all the links to those websites—here is just an example). Beyond the interesting focus of the prize from the sponsor's research point of view, it is interesting to see how a simply defined prize target and, probably most importantly, $40K attracted so many people to the competition--4,000 participants as reported in http://twitter.com/DARPA_News ( @DARPA_News on Twitter ) or about 300 teams as cited in MSNBC. For regular people, $40K is good money, particularly in crisis time—and the costs of participating do not seem to be so high. However, I do not think that the extent to which participants considered this an achievable target or participated for other reasons is known (and this may be an important aspect when designing the right incentives in prizes). DARPA may have collected more information on this.
@DARPA_News reported that the competition leveraged the effort of at least 4,000 participants (o details on how those participants contributed to achieving the prize target or about their activities). The same source reported only 120 submissions for the position of the balloons by 1:31pm on Dec 5th; and the MIT Red Balloon Team was announced winner when there were only 30 minutes left before grounding the balloons that day. I did not find any comment on the MIT team website about how they worked to win the competition. But I did find something very interesting about how they tried to engage more people to participate. They implemented a scheme to share the prize reward based on the people participation: those who provide correct data on the location of balloons and those who invite them to participate would share the prize reward with the MIT team.
For sure, the competition has had different outcomes. In principle, DARPA has successfully attracted (again) the attention of the media and lots of people. Moreover, I really would like to read about how successful the collection of data for their experiment was. That was the primary goal of the competition. Probably not all participants benefited from their participation, yet some of them have probably learned more about their interests or how to apply their knowledge for other purposes related to the prize challenge. Surely, networking between participants has been another outcome.
Did the prize challenge look simple, yet it was too difficult to achieve? Well, in principle, there was a winner, so the challenge was achievable (I do not know the specifics on the needed technologies). From the point of view of the sponsor’s goals, it looks that the target was well defined, considering that the prize challenge was achieved with only few minutes left before the competition deadline! In other words, that probably had elicited the greatest possible effort from the participants.
Overall, this is another interesting case that shows how prizes can be used for very different purposes and engage lots of people in the meantime.
said by: Luciano
date and time: 2009-12-08 00:17:26 GMT -5
tags: DARPA, prizes