10 red balloons.

That’s what DARPA launched to test new ways to use the internet – and social media specifically, the Guardian says – to solve problems rapidly (and to locate targets, I’m guessing). Find the balloons, get a prize. Unsurprisingly, M.I.T. won the game in a matter of hours:

The winning team has not explained precisely how they came to discover the location of all 10 balloons, but the process detailed on the team website explains that they created a viral campaign to encourage people to put forward information they gleaned about the locations.

The team offered the first person to spot a balloon a $2,000 share of the prize money, but smaller awards would also be given to those who referred that player to MIT’s website – a scheme of incentives aimed at getting people to urge their friends to take part.

Whatever happened in the end, it appeared to work – and quickly.

There’s a lesson here, too, about “monetizing the web,” I think. If you want to create a viral campaign from scratch, give away a big chunk of money. Now, if only I could find some initial investors….