A lost bag - returned by the open web

Ramzan Karmali with his returned credit cards Ramzan Karmali with his returned credit cards

It's become a commonplace event - someone loses something valuable on public transport and then uses the power of social media's network effect to get it back.

But what is interesting about the case of Ramzan Karmali and his missing wallet is that, to put it politely, his network is minuscule.

Ramzan is a BBC business producer, a cheerful former City trader who sits opposite me in Broadcasting House. On Thursday evening however he wasn't so cheerful when he got off the suburban train home to find he'd left a bag containing his wallet behind.

Now Ramzan isn't the most prolific user of social networks - on Twitter he has just 160 followers - but he thought it was worth trying to send out an alert. So he tweeted this:

Ramzan Karmali's tweet: Nightmare. Left bag (gap plastic) on southeastern train from charing cross to Hayes. Wallet & 2 Mexican cook books gone! Praying for miracle"

Now of course it was extremely unlikely that any of his followers would have been on that train - but he followed up with this:

"Can power of twitter recover lost bag on train? Feel free to retweet my last tweet!"

And a number of his friends (not me, I'm ashamed to confess) took the hint and retweeted his appeal. So that quickly multiplied the audience for his tweet to several thousand people.

Late that night, Ramzan got a message from someone with the Twitter handle @flipchartqueen. This was Sheila Thorne, who had been sitting opposite him on the train. She'd spotted the lost bag, taken it home and called the police.

Then, after several hours of hearing nothing back, she googled Ramzan, whose name was on the credit cards in his wallet.

The following day, they met in Central London, Sheila handed over the bag, and Ramzan presented her with a box of chocolates.

"Five years ago this would never have happened," he says. "A combination of honesty and technology got my bag back."

Start Quote

What decides whether a joke goes viral, or an appeal for help remains unheard?”

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Now, despite the many learned treatises written on the network effect, it remains unpredictable - what decides whether a joke goes viral, or an appeal for help remains unheard? In this case, it appears to have been a combination of Google and Twitter that combined to bring Ramzan's plea to exactly the right audience.

But there is another person my colleague needs to thank for making the spread of vital information work so smoothly.

Twenty years ago today the nuclear research centre CERN put out a press release announcing that it was making freely available something called the World Wide Web, "a global computer networked information system".

Its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, was determined that the web should be an open system, not a series of walled gardens controlled by governments or corporations.

And, while we can argue over just how open the web remains, if Ramzan's tweet had been locked inside something like the Compuserve network of the 1980s rather than out on the web, then Sheila might never have seen it.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Flipchart Queen, you commented that the police were 'pants' after having called 101 and waiting 3 hours...for what amounts to lost property.

    Primary job of the police is not lost property. Busy trying to reduce crime and catch criminals and keep people safe. Bit of perspective please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I once lost something and by an amazing coincidence found it again. I won't go into the details as they are quite boring. But it was amazing. Really amazing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    76 anotherfakename

    If the sole purpose of a BBC correspondent was to write a blog, then you would have a point. However, I imagine most of a correspondent's salary is based primarily on TV and radio work (on air and off), plus "full-size" articles on the website. The occasional blog entry probably comes well down the list.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    @73. laughingdevil
    Made worse by the fact the last story lasted here at least a week. I can't imagine this 'report' took longer than 10 minutes to write. Thus whatever his salary is he is getting paid for no more than 10 minutes work a week... probably a damned site more per annum than I am paid for working a 50 hour week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Incidentally, I hope those aren't really his own cards he's holding up. Given that we know who he is, where he works, roughly where he lives and who knows what else from the web, it is perhaps a little unwise to tell the world which bank he has an account with.


Comments 5 of 79



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