DARPA, Ten Red Balloons, & Leveraging the Web’s Social Environment

The other night I was catching up on the latest world news from my prime TV journalists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Colbert interviewed Riley Crane (take a watch of this six minute clip), an MIT postdoc who lead a team that won a DARPA Network Challenge to find ten red balloons on display at all locations at 10:00AM (ET) until approximately 4:00 PM (local time) on Saturday, December 5, 2009 scattered around the US in the shortest time.

The winning team found all of the balloons in 6 hours 52 minutes. The team used a cascade of financial incentives; they shared the $40,000 prize among those who helped find the balloons. To drive the social network, those who referred those who found a balloon received part of the winnings. Listen to Riley Crane on Colbert Nation and look at the team’s website for more about how it worked.

I think that we need to seize on this social invention to solve some pressing matters in our recent history. For instance, why not use this technology to find, for example:

  • evidence of crimes or egregious unethical behavior committed by Dick Cheney
  • managers of sub-prime mortgage companies who intentionally targeted people who could not financially support home ownership, those who created low-doc and no-doc mortgages.
  • members of the defense and spy establishment who knowingly foisted the WMD strategy on the world to support Bush’s craziness
  • what happened to the $billions in cash disbursed in Iraq during the early years of the Bush War?

How would this work? Well, some ideas will lead directly to real money, others will require some wealthy folks with interest in the question to put up some short change to invent the discoveries. Then, we just sit back and watch the social web work.

There is a problem here, that is fairly obvious and not without some risks. The same social discovery process can be used by anyone with a little cash and access to the web. We will see a tsunami of questions from a less desirable portion of the world.

Mid-Hudson Cablevision Inc. – false advertising?? or just plain bad service?? or both??

We get out internet service via Mid-Hudson Cablevision, Inc. (Catskill, NY based) along with TV services. After only a month I began to notice that the internet service seemed slow compared to the service we had in Cambridge. In mid-August I searched around for a speed testing service. I settled on Speedtest.net because they offered a wide range of test-partners scattered around the world and a rolling data presentation page that makes it easy to keep track of all the tests performed.

I have had repeated emails with Craig (last name withheld at his request) at Mid-Hudson. In his first response, he wrote, “The service is burstable to 4.8 mbps, but sustained is usually between 2.5mbps and 3.5mbps.” I pointed out to him that Mid-Hudson Cablevision widely advertises and states that their high speed internet services are “Downstream is 5 Meg” or as Craig has stated it “5 mbps”. In a further email response, Craig stated that; “The 2.5-3mbps is the sustained service for the 5mbps plan, I am not sure why they don’t say that the 5mb service is “up to” 5mbps.

After I submitted further data showing that the downstream or download speeds of the high speed internet service was 0.91 Mb/s on 9/22/9, I received a visit by a Mid-Hudson Cablevision technician, Jason, who performed tests on the cable modem and our internal router/wifi system. Our internal systems are not part of the problem. Jason replaced the cable modem and confirmed that speeds in the 3.5 to 4 Mb/s were the typical performance of the internet service.

So, here we are with a company that advertises services at 5 Mb/s but has never delivered them. Further, no one has suggested that they will.

Just to put all of this in context, Speed Matters finds that for NY state the average download speed is 8.4 Mb/s. This means that if Mid-Hudson Cablevision would just meet their advertised speeds the would still be 40% slower than the state average. We are not exactly setting a high bar here.

So, now I await the next actions from Mid-Hudson Cablevision to bring their services into line with both their advertised service levels and

Here is some data to substantiate my claims. You will notice that on the best days, the service levels never reach the advertised 5 Mbps.

Download the whole spreadsheet – MHCable-speedtests-2009-09-28

Click on the image to get a full-size readable version.