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Digital bounty hunters unleashed

Online pay strategy quickly coordinates cross-country balloon posse

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.

“Our incentive system offers monetary rewards, but perhaps more importantly it builds social capital between you and the people you recruit, who get an opportunity to participate in something interesting,” says MIT computer scientist Alex Pentland. This strategy c

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