December 8, 2009 | 11:36am
That giant red weather balloon hovering over Collins Avenue this past weekend wasn't some sort of Art Basel-related installation. It was part of a U.S. Defense Department Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contest.
DARPA set 99 ten luftballoons in locations across the country and challenged teams of citizens to use social networking to find the coordinates of all ten. A monetary prize was offered to the winning team. The goal was to see how people would use social networks while trusting information and working under a deadline.
Balloons were also placed in Houston, Portland, Charlottesville, Memphis, and other cities.
An MIT grad student led the winning team, which found all ten balloons in less than nine hours. Besides combing through Twitter and Facebook, the team also set up its own site and offered a cut of the $40,000 prize money to anyone who offered reliable leads. The rest of the money was donated to charity.