Manuel Cebrian

Research Scientist
Media Lab
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA, USA
Manuel Cebrian

About Manuel Cebrian

Dr. Manuel Cebrian is Research Scientist with Scalable Cooperation, an MIT Media Lab research group. He is best known for designing the recursive incentive structure that mobilized participants to solve the DARPA Network Challenge, the Department of State Tag Challenge, and the DARPA Shredder Challenge.

Cebrian came to MIT from CSIRO, where he developed tools for nowcasting disaster damage using crowdsourced data. Before CSIRO, Cebrian was based at the University of California San Diego, where he was immersed in large-scale crowdsourcing competitions. His first hands-on work with mass-scale social networks came through his postdoctoral work with Telefonica Research and Brown University.

Cebrian earned a Ph.D. in computer science from Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, where his thesis received the dissertation of the year award for his work on plagiarism networks, as well as a test-of-time Alumni-UAM award ten years after its defense. A summary of Cebrian's body of work can be found in Nautilus, Medium, and Madri+d. Recent articles by Nature, The Economist, and New Scientist highlight Cebrian's contributions to crowdsourcing, put in perspective by his brief history of social search.

Links to: Contact Information, Medium, Drawings, Fiction.

Recent projects

Beyond Viral, M. Cebrian, I. Rahwan, and A. Pentland, Communications of the ACM, 59:4, 2016. MIT Sloan Management Review; accompanying film and art book.

The Nightmare Machine, P. Yanardag, M. Cebrian, N. Obradovich, I. Rahwan. Instagram, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Forbes, BBC, NPR, CNET, NBC News, Vice, Boston Globe, FiveThirtyEight.

Expecting to be HIP: Hawkes Intensity Processes for Social Media Popularity, A. Rizoiu, L. Xie, S. Sanner, M. Cebrian, H. Yu, and P. Van Hentenryck. Proceedings of the International World Wide Web Conference (WWW'2017), Perth, Australia, 2017. Interactive Visualization System, ACTIVE Twitter Videos Dataset, and code.

Selected projects

For a comprehensive list of publications, check Cebrian's Google Scholar profile, his Semantic Scholar profile, his Research Gate profile, or his DBLP bibliography.

Time-critical social mobilization, G. Pickard, W. Pan, I. Rahwan, M. Cebrian, R. Crane, A. Madan, and A. Pentland, Science 334(6055):509-512 (2011). New York Times, Rachel Madow, MSNBC, Popular Mechanics, MIT News, IEEE Multimedia, Science News.

Urban characteristics attributable to density-driven tie formation, W. Pan, G. Ghoshal, C. Krumme, M. Cebrian, and A. Pentland, Nature Communications 4, 1961 (2013). Featured in PNAS Core Concepts in Computational Social Science, New York Times, The Atlantic Cities, The Economist, Smithsonian, MIT News. See related work on Urban Crime, covered by CIO, and our analysis the capacity of cities to Organize Social Events.

Limits of social mobilization, A. Rutherford, M. Cebrian, S. Dsouza, E. Moro, A. Pentland, and I. Rahwan, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 110(16):6281-6286 (2013). NBC, Yahoo! News, Arabian Gazette, La Repubblica.

Error and attack tolerance of collective problem solving: The DARPA Shredder Challenge, N. Stefanovitch, A. Alshamsi, M. Cebrian, I. Rahwan, EPJ Data Science 3:13 (2014). Medium, Nautilus, CNET, San Diego Union-Tribune, UC San Diego News I, UC San Diego News II, KPBS,, El Pais, RTVE.

Rapid assessment of disaster damage using social media activity, Y. Kryvasheyeu, H. Chen, N. Obradovich, E. Moro, P. Van Hentenryck, J. Fowler, and M. Cebrian, Science Advances 2, e1500779 (2016). Science Magazine, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, Michigan Daily, Die Welt, Deutschlandfunk, Dagens Nyheter, Science News, El Pais, La Vanguardia, Altmetric. Dataset available at Dryad Digital Repository.

Using friends as sensors to detect global-scale contagious outbreaks, M. Garcia-Herranz, E. Moro, M. Cebrian, N. Christakis, J. Fowler, PLoS ONE 9(4):e92413 (2014). MIT Technology Review, Yale University News, Chronicle, Business Week, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Huffington Post.

Social sensing for epidemiological behavior change, A. Madan, M. Cebrian, D. Lazer, A. Pentland, Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp) pp. 291-300, Copenhagen, Denmark (2010)., Nature News.

Reflecting on the DARPA Red Balloon Challenge, J. Tang, M. Cebrian, N. Giacobe, H-W. Kim, T. Kim, D. Wickert, Communications of the ACM 54(4):78-85 (2011).

Finding red balloons with split contracts: robustness to individuals' selfishness, M. Cebrian, L. Coviello, A. Vattani, P. Voulgaris, Proceedings of the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC) pp. 775-788, New York, USA (2012). Talk video, Yaron Singer's Lecture Notes.

Crowdsourcing contest dilemma, V. Naroditskiy, N. Jennings, P. Van Hentenryck, M. Cebrian, Journal of The Royal Society Interface 11:20140532 (2014). Social Physics Blog, The Australian, ABC Radio, Quartz, LifeHacker, The Conversation, University of Southampton.

Global manhunt pushes the limits of social mobilization, I. Rahwan, S. Dsouza, A. Rutherford, V. Naroditskiy, J. McInerney, M. Venanzi, N. Jennings, M. Cebrian, Computer 46(4):68-75 (2013). Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, New Scientist, Wired.

News Coverage

English coverage: New York Times, The Economist, Popular Science, Nature News, New Scientist, The Atlantic, Wired, MIT Technology Review, Nautilus, Medium, The Antlantic's Citylab, Yale News, The Conversation, The Australian, MIT Technology Review, The Australian, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, CIO, Transparency International, Arts Hub, Mx, Science News, Science Magazine, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, Die Welt, Deutschlandfunk, Dagens Nyheter, The Advertiser, Wikimedia Research Showcase, Australian National University, MIT Technology Review, The Atlantic, Forbes, Motherboard, MIT Sloan Management Review,Washington Post, The Atlantic, Forbes, BBC, NPR, CNET, NBC News, Vice, Boston Globe, FiveThirtyEight.

Spanish coverage: El Pais, El Mundo, Cinco Dias, Muy Interesante, El Confidencial, Ahora Semanal, RTVE, Cinco Dias, El Pais, Madri+d, El Pais, La Vanguardia, Cadena Ser, Nada es Gratis, El Pais, El Confidencial, Yorokobu, El Confidencial, Universidad Pablo de Olavide.


Scientific correspondence should be directed to Dr. Cebrian at

Questions about the Research Group should be directed to Amna Carreiro at

Media inquiries should be directed to Media Lab Press Team at

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