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?”

End Quote

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

Tax and tech

Like politicians everywhere, the UK government is torn between enthusing over new technology - and demanding a fair share of its profits.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Rory


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I remember when I was 15 and threw a house party when my parents were away. Someone tweeted it and it was gatecrashed by hundreds of people and the house was trashed. Five years ago that would never have happened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    If anything proves that RCJ is no longer a tech journalist this is it!

    In any other line of work output like this would be considered a resignation letter!

    I can't believe my license fee is wasted on this drivel!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    This is the sort of thing the internet is brilliant at!

    But it ain't great for everything - just look at how the "help" provided on line to "indentify" the Boston bombers essentially only returned people of non European ethnic origin.......

    ....the internet certainly holds a mirror up to humantiy.....many lovely people but too many ******** with bigotted agendas.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    This is a prime example of how to spin a story so it suits your agenda. This should be a story about the honesty of decent people... but that is hardly news worthy.

    Had twitter not existed and Sheila looked Ramzan up in the phone book would we suddenly all be in awe of "the power of the telephone directory". No.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Dumb and neurotic people don't deserve wealth, con artists and mislaid property are a poetic way to redistribute it to apt individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    68 @Tchernobog
    But free speach is not a right on the bbc so the previous comment (67) didn't make it. Don't really get why though i didn't swear used no offensive or inflamatory language. I mearly pointed out that the article was not writen by Mr Karmail in response to #62 oh yes and made a reference to the fact that i do believe he is winning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Now i have read his tweet in the context of the article above and can find no evidence of egotism, vanity or pride,which would characterise narcissism, a touch of selfishness at wanting his lost property back is evident but expected.
    So i ask myself where is the narcissism? Do you know what narcissism means? Did you even read the article? You realise that you are using a "twit machine" to coment?

  • Comment number 67.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    This shows one of the many sides of technology and that honest people are still amongst us, woo hoo!! He may not use it a lot, but its helped him.Two people connecting in such a big city to complete a good deed, can only be a good thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    63.Miss Ingoff
    There is no "feel-good factor". It's a lie. And that's the point. Life is brutal and if you make a mistake you should expect it to be punished. Putting every aspect of your life into the public domain is also the definition of narcissism. It began with reality TV. Now the "me" generation tap away at their twit machines. As Dan Ashcroft would say, the idiots are winning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Men shouldn't put their wallet in a bag. It becomes a purse in that instance ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    59 Respighi

    I appreciate the feel-good factor: I just don't really see what it's got to do with the 20th anniversary of the open web. It's a heartwarming story about basic human decency in which technology played, at most, an incidental role: Ramzan would still have got his bag back without the web, but would never have got it back if the finder had not been honest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    More vile narcissism. Lost property should be promptly handed in to the police. If lost on a train, to the rail authorities.

    Mr Karmali is simply stoking his own self importance via the electronic idiot machine and encouraging others to believe that they are 'special' and deserving of preferential treatment. He lost his bag through his own absent mindedness and he should have paid the penalty...

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    There used to be things called lost property offices. They were rather good until they decided to charge for collecting your items.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Re 25 Money. I'm surprised to see you on here after your debacle re your maths and the football lol. But maybe, just maybe, you could have seen this as a feel-good news item. They don't all have to be doom and gloom or have some sporting or political bias and I'm always intrigued why people take the time to shout their plaintive cry of 'this is a non-story'. If it is (to you) just remain quiet!!


Page 1 of 4



  • An undated file photo posted on 27 August 2014 by the Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group, showing IS fighters waving the group's flag from a damaged government fighter jet in Raqqa, Syria.Adapt or die?

    IS militants seem to be changing tactics after air strikes

  • signClean and tidy

    Things that could only happen in a Hong Kong protest

  • Child eating ice creamTooth top tips

    Experts on ways to encourage children to look after their teeth

  • Almaz cleaning floorAlmaz's prison

    Beaten and raped - the story of an African servant in Saudi Arabia

  • Train drawn by Jonathan Backhouse, 1825Original 'geeks'

    What hobby did this drawing start in 1825?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.