Find the Knights This Weekend: Social Mobilization Experiment

The worldwide Langley Knights Competition starts July 2 at 9:00 EDT. Use social media and Google Maps to track down 5 knights in shining armor — both real and virtual. $16,500 in prizes and anyone can play.

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UPDATE on July 4: By the end of day two in the competition, “All knights have been reported found.”

There’s a fun competition taking place this weekend to think about all the ways teams can leverage social media and their collective skills to find fast solutions: it’s called the Langley Knights Competition, and it involves finding both real knights – the ones who wear armor and clang around – and virtual ones.

Here’s how Stuart Madnick, the John Norris Maguire professor of information technology at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a professor of engineering systems at the MIT School of Engineering, explained it in a recent post:

“Think of it as a high-tech treasure hunt. The award is up to $16,500 and it goes to the first person or group of people who determine the whereabouts of up to five knights we’ve placed in public parks throughout Great Britain. Three of the knights are real – actual people dressed in shining armor – but two of them are of the cyber variety, represented by photographs that can be seen on Google Maps or Google Earth.

“It may sound silly, but this is not a game; it is an experiment in time-critical social mobilization. That is, our objective is to understand more about the different ways in which large, geographically diverse teams use social media networks to organize and solve problems rapidly.”

Madnick says the inspiration for the experiment, which he put together with Chander Velu, a university lecturer in marketing at Cambridge Judge Business School (University of Cambridge), came from a 2009 challenge put on by a research arm of the U.S. Pentagon. That challenge awarded $40,000 to the first group of people to correctly identify the location of 10 red weather balloons around the United States. Madnick says a team from the MIT Media Lab beat about 4,300 other teams in just under nine hours by using social-networking technology. (Read our January 2010 blog post about that victory.) Madnick adds:

“The key to the [2009] group’s success was the use of an incentive scheme to draft new team members through social media. For instance, to recruit team members, the Media Lab offered $2,000 per balloon to the first person to send the correct coordinates, and $1,000 to the original person who invited that person to the team. It also offered $500 to whoever invited the inviter, and $250 to whoever invited them, and so on.”

Madnick calls this weekend’s challenge, which begins July 2 at 9:00 EDT when a pdf of the knights will be released, the first-ever Worldwide Time Critical Social Mobilization Experiment. Because some of the knights are virtual, the experiment is international – anyone can play. Langley Castle, the Langley-on-Tyne castle/hotel that is the competition’s sponsor, made a video of what the knights might look like.

To join in, register at

From the MIT SMR archives: “ Finding New Uses For Information,” by Hongwei Zhu and Stuart E. Madnick, Summer 2009 issue.


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99… no, 10 Red Balloons: el DARPA Network Challenge |
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