A team led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spread the wealth far and wide to locate 10 red balloons in undisclosed locations across the country on Dec. 5 and win a $40,000 cash prize from the Pentagon’s think tank, MSNBC reports. The DARPA Network Challenge was designed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of ARPANet, the precursor to today’s internet, and to study how social networking could help solve big problems in a small amount of time. Each 8-foot-wide balloon was raised over a publicly viewable location. More than 4,000 teams registered to participate in the hunt, and the MIT team won the challenge by being the first to correctly identify the locations of all 10 balloons. DARPA said it planned to meet with the leading teams in the competition to review the approaches they used to build networks and collect information, as well as how they distinguished between trusted information and bum steers. Many teams recruited participants by offering shares of the prize money for verified reports of the balloons’ locations, while others sifted through information disseminated via the web and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, hoping to find an edge. The MIT team created a recursive schedule of payouts that capitalized on the depth of social networks. A formal online invitation system was created for recruiting volunteers. The participant who contributed the first confirmed sighting of a balloon was promised $2,000. The participant who recruited that finder would get $1,000. That person’s recruiter would get $500, and so on down the chain. The result was an adaptation of the classic multilevel-marketing arrangement…

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