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Digital bounty hunters unleashed

Online pay strategy quickly coordinates cross-country balloon posse

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2:28pm, October 27, 2011

These days, bounty hunters aren’t deputized, they’re digitized: Online crowd-sourcing strategies to induce masses of people to solve a task, such as locating far-flung items or alleviating world hunger, work best when financial incentives impel participants to enlist friends and acquaintances in the effort, a new study concludes.

In a competition to find 10 red weather balloons placed across the United States, a team of MIT researchers used online social media and a simple reward system to recruit balloon-searchers in the 36 hours preceding the contest. Their pay-based strategy garnered them 4,400 volunteers who located all the balloons in a contest-winning eight hours, 52 minutes.

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