Bandit strategies in social search: The case of the DARPA red balloon challenge

Caron Chen, Iyad Rahwan, Manuel Cebrian

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    Collective search for people and information has tremendously benefited from emerging communication technologies that leverage the wisdom of the crowds, and has been increasingly influential in solving time-critical tasks such as the DARPA Network Challenge (DNC, also known as the Red Balloon Challenge). However, while collective search often invests significant resources in encouraging the crowd to contribute new information, the effort invested in verifying this information is comparable, yet often neglected in crowdsourcing models. This paper studies how the exploration-verification trade-off displayed by the teams modulated their success in the DNC, as teams had limited human resources that they had to divide between recruitment (exploration) and verification (exploitation). Our analysis suggests that team performance in the DNC can be modelled as a modified multi-armed bandit (MAB) problem, where information arrives to the team originating from sources of different levels of veracity that need to be assessed in real time. We use these insights to build a data-driven agent-based model, based on the DNC’s data, to simulate team performance. The simulation results match the observed teams’ behavior and demonstrate how to achieve the best balance between exploration and exploitation for general time-critical collective search tasks.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalEPJ Data Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2016


    • bandit problem
    • crowdsourcing
    • disinformation
    • exploitation
    • exploration
    • misinformation
    • social search

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