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Contests! Prizes! White House Plans Web Platform for Competitions

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, March 12 2010

Credit: DARPA

Back in December, DARPA, the folks at the Department of Defense who (sorta) brought us the Internet, celebrated the 40th anniversary of said Internet with a contest. DARPA moored 10 red weather balloons across the country, and challenged people to use the real-time mobilization and ad hoc team building made possible by the Internet to find just where each balloon happened to be stationed. It took a team from MIT all of nine hours. They got $40,000 -- shared amongst the people online and off who helped them track down the balloons.

Folks liked the contest. Both Aneesh Chopra and Beth Noveck use DARPA's red balloon experiment as an example in their public speeches. In a memo released earlier this week (pdf), the White House announced that they're building a web platform to make more contests like DARPA's possible, to be released sometime in the next four months. Importantly, the Office of Management and Budget is also working with agencies to dot the legal i's and cross the contracting t's it will take to pull off government-sponsored contests. "[I]t is Administration policy to strongly encourage agencies" to hold contests and award prizes.

The White House recommends prizes and contests in six areas: "exemplar prizes" for people who are really good at something, "point solution" prizes for problems that need addressing, "exposition prizes" that celebrate things people are already doing well, "participation prizes" of the "let's all lose weight!" variety, and "market stimulation" prizes aimed at getting people to make big advancements in a certain field. NextGov's Aliya Sternstein has more.

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