Social media fuels global sleuth challenge

Apr 17, 2012
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The TAG Challenge, a social media competition simulating an international manhunt, has finished in less than a day with three out of the five suspects found.

The challenge pitted five fictitious jewel thieves based in Washington DC, New York, London, Stockholm, and Bratislava against teams across the globe. The suspects wore identifying shirts, and their pictures were put on the TAG website; teams were required to find them using social media and their own social networks to get someone to spot and upload a picture of the suspects to the TAG Challenge site.

The winning team, the MIT-based Crowdscanner, found suspects in Washington DC, New York, and Bratislava within 17 hours of the contest kickoff, earning $3000 out of the $5000 prize. Crowdscanner built a large network for the challenge by giving part of the prize money to anybody who managed to upload a picture or recruit more people to the team. The blog iDisaster 2.0 has an interesting round-up interview with a member from the team who explains why they succeeded while other teams didn’t.

The TAG Challenge, similar to 2009′s DARPA Balloon Challenge which tasked teams with finding 10 red balloons scattered across the United States, aims to test the capabilities of social networks in large-scale problem solving. The results were inconclusive; challenge co-organizer Steve Miller pointed out that, “No one was able to find all five individuals. There may be limits to what social media can help people accomplish in time-critical situations, or internationally.”

Despite this, finding three individuals in cities with a population totaling more than 9 million remains an impressive feat. As another of the project organizers pointed out, “Here’s a remarkable fact: a team organized by individuals in the U.S., the U.K and the United Arab Emirates was able to locate an individual in Slovakia in under eight hours based only on a photograph.”

The TAG Challenge organized by a group of graduate students from around the world and was administered by the Institute of International Education and funded by the U.S. Embassy in Prague as well as the U.S. State Department’s Young Leaders Dialogue with America.

Homepage photo courtesy Flickr user olarte.ollie. Diagram from Crowdscanner website.)


About the Author

Ryan Isakow

Ryan Isakow is a TOL editorial intern.
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