DARPA Challenge Doesn't Go Viral On Twitter

Agency ends two-week QR-related contest--promoted only through Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks--without anyone finding all 7 posters with special codes.
Top 14 Government Social Media Initiatives
Top 14 Government Social Media Initiatives
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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently ended its CLIQR challenge without anyone successfully completing the contest's full task, giving the agency new insights into the effectiveness of social networks versus more traditional forms of online communications and media outreach to spread information.

CLIQR--which stands for Cash for Locating and Identifying Quick Response Codes--challenged people to find seven posters that appeared in U.S. cities bearing the DARPA logo and a quick response code.

The idea behind the challenge was to get people to respond quickly to simulate how citizens might mobilize for aid and relief during a time of crisis, according to the challenge's website. People had only two weeks to find and submit the codes to DARPA, which like other federal agencies uses challenges to help it perform research and more effectively use and create new technologies.

Although the winner of the $40,000 CLIQR Quest prize took only 18 hours to find three of the seven codes--and all of the codes were eventually found--no one person found all of the posters.

The key to the challenge was that DARPA did not engage in its usual outreach strategy--such as through websites, blogs, or a press release on the agency’s website--the way it has with previous challenges, which were more successful. Instead, it used Twitter to announce the challenge and encouraged participants to use their own social networks as well, such as Facebook, to find the posters.

[ DARPA uses public muscle in other ways. See DARPA Crowdsources Combat Vehicle Design. ]

"With CLIQR Quest, we sought to test the opposite end of the spectrum--zero excitation through public agency announcements," said DARPA Deputy director Kaigham Gabriel in a press statement.

Previous DARPA challenges that were more widely publicized by the agency beyond the social-media realm indeed had more successful outcomes.

For example, the DARPA Network challenge, more commonly known as the "Red Balloon" challenge, was heavily promoted by the agency through traditional online media communications channels.

It took that competition's winner only eight hours and 52 minutes to find eight red weather balloons tethered 100 feet off the ground in undisclosed locations throughout the United States.

Similarly, the Shredder Challenge--also promoted through press releases and media coverage--also had an entirely successful outcome by the end of the contest.

The CLIQR challenge's result provides more insight for further research into how information spreads through social media, said DARPA's Jay Schnitzer, director of the Defense Sciences Office, in a press statement. It also suggests that social and more traditional forms of media are not mutually exclusive and can even be paired together for the best outcome.

As federal agencies embrace devices and apps to meet employee demand, the White House seeks one comprehensive mobile strategy. Also in the new Going Mobile issue of InformationWeek Government: Find out how the National Security Agency is developing technologies to make commercial devices suitable for intelligence work. (Free registration required.)