Did DARPA’s network challenge tell us anything we didn’t know already?

Last Saturday’s experiment baffles me.

The idea of the Defense Department trying to understand network effects is understandable. DARPA (which stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) sent up 10 of these across the country.

Balloons to study social networking how information travels across the Net seems like a bit odd. Sure DARPA did invent the internet, but…

Why use a large object in the sky? On Twitter people resort to “wide area team-building and urgent mobilization” without any interest in a reward. Just ask Tiger Woods, and (you knew this was coming, all you balloon fans, didn’t you?) the dad of Balloon Boy.

Here is how it was handled: Teams were asked to take part in locating ten moored weather balloons at fixed locations in the US. They were visible from roadways (spottings here) and accompanied by DARPA representatives –hopefully not inside the balloon, as that would have been too much like the Falcon incident.

They went up at 10 am (Eastern) and supposedly stayed there until 4 pm on Sat, Dec 5.

Attached (hopefully not to the aforementioned rep) was a $40,000 prize “to the first participant to submit the correct latitude and longitude of all ten weather balloons.”

I have an idea, DARPA: Why don’t you do this once a  month, and then ask the winner to give half of the reward to someone who’s lost a job? The network effects of this would be huge since there could be 15.4 million people (the official unemployment figure as of Nov 09) Tweeting, talking and Facebooking this. Larry King would love to cover incidents like this and regularly point  to the bottom of his screen to show us his Twitter address.

Or maybe you could hire a few people to increase the network effects of your Facebook page –which had only 19 people leaving nice messages about this.

OK, enough of having a bit of fun at DARPA’s expense. Let me say what I liked about:

  • I like the fact that an organization like this is not sitting on its laurels, but trying to learn how this thing they created works, and morphs. (Watch this vid, below) as Peter explains.
  • I like the idea of encouraging collaborative efforts. Throwing it out to the hoipolloi. Nerd Fighters took up the challenge, and though they didn’t quite win, their efforts were very impressive.

Not enough organizations take risks like this. It’s time many did send up some trial balloons, red or otherwise.

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