In an effort to explore the roles the internet and social networking play when solving broad-scope, time-critical problems, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is challenging groups of Americans to locate 10 moored, eight-foot red weather balloons at 10 fixed locations in the continental US.
Such research could build upon the emerging concept of crowdsourcing, which is already fueling a growing number online business and marketing concepts.
So far, more than 300 teams have signed up for the DARPA Network Challenge. The first team to find the locations of all 10 balloons - which are apparently easily visible from major roads - takes home a $40,000 cash prize. DARPA will use the participating teams to study the innovation, logic and creativity that is part of group problem solving.
DARPA is also launching this initiative in celebration of the internet's 40th anniversary, the agency said. The organization originated what is now the web. "It is fitting for DARPA to announce this competition on the anniversary of the day that the first message was sent over the ARPANET, the precursor to the internet," said Regina Dugan, DARPA's director, in a statement.
"In the 40 years since this breakthrough, the internet has become an integral part of society and the global economy," Dugan added. "The DARPA Network Challenge explores the unprecedented ability to of the Internet to bring people together to solve tough problems."
The most obvious non-military use of this research is to further the commercial and non-profit implementations of crowdsourcing - an endeavor in which several people in a community develop an idea or concept. One example is the recent launch of JUSTPROUD, a fashion brand in which community members contribute to the design, photography and modeling of the clothes. Final selections are then made by voting.
According to digital experts at Last Exit, crowdsourcing will be one of the top ten web trends to watch in 2010, writes MarketingCharts.