DARPA, the guys who initiated the Internet forty + years ago, launched a challenge to people in the US. On December 5th 2009, DARPA released ten balloons in the US skys from ten undisclosed locations. The contestant that could report the coordinates of all ten balloons would win 40,000 dollars. Finding 10 red balloons over the whole territory of the United States in a period of nine hours is far more difficult than finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Well, the MIT won the challenge, http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10410403-93.html . I discovered it just now, as I am sitting in the Wong auditorium listening to the power of Social Networks.
As a matter of fact the problem was “impossible” to solve with normal methods. Even trying to use a satellite would not work, since the balloons were too small, and partly hidden by clouds. The MIT team, one among 4300+ contestants who devised different strategies to solve the riddle, decided to leverage the power of Social Networks. They devised a way to reward balloon spotters (by dividing the 40,000 $ prize in a way that was able to provide every participant to the social network chase with some “gain”) and a way to filter spurious reports thus finding out the true locations.
What is amazing is this application of crowd-sourcing to solve problems that would be impossible to solve with technology, and at the same time consider the amount of technology that was required to make crowd-sourcing work.
It is also interesting to see that the rewarding strategy was crucial in mobilizing people. We have here all the elements of a business ecosystem: myriad of players, independency among players, a rewarding scheme of personal gratification and the technology enabling interaction and extraction of value. Something to think about when trying to aggregate a biz ecosystem.