DARPA Launches Red Balloon Hunt

The Defense Department's DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) program will be looking at how information spreads virally on the internet through a contest looking to see who can be the first to correctly spot ten red weather balloons around the country.

These balloons will be launched from "readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads" on Saturday. Those wishing to participate in the contest must first register at DARPA's website and would have until December 14 to complete their submissions.

The agency hopes to understand how information goes viral. Specifically, the website says the effort "will 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."

Participants are already harnessing the social aspects of the Internet in order to compete. Websites such as ispyaredballoon.com have popped up to centralize and verify reports, and in some cases, if a team wins the winnings would be divided among those who correctly report balloon locations.

DARPA has made sure that no one person would be able to spot all of the balloons, thus they would be spread out pretty far across the entire country, according to reports. About 1,500 have signed up to participate, with another 1,000 expected to register before the contest begins.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this contest pans out, as it could have some real world implications. Obviously, the Defense Department would like to understand how information spreads -- especially to assist in counterterrorism measures.

We'd like to know if you spot a balloon tomorrow. Let us know here in the comments. (Maybe we should have a Technologizer team?)

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