Why I love Flickr: A Detective Story

Back in May, a woman named Rhonda was travelling on the West Coast of Scotland when she found a camera. Like any good citizen, she handed it into the police.

Three months on, the camera hadn’t been claimed and Rhonda got it back. It was a nice camera – an Olympus digital point and shoot, worth about £200.

Story over? Finders keepers? Well, no.

There were loads of photos on the camera’s memory card. Taken over the second half of last year, the photos included a wedding and lots of touristy pictures of a young couple in various locations around Europe.

Rhonda worried that she’d found someone’s honeymoon snaps.

…Which is where Flickr came in. Rhonda posted a note in the Flickr help forum. The Flickr community jumped on the idea. Yes, it was okay to share the photos in the name of investigation, so she posted the whole lot onto her photostream – and amateur detectives all over the world started to get to work.

The main focus of sleuthing was a house which looked like the couple’s base for part of their trip. Was it a holiday home? Their own home, even?

Someone from the help forum spotted a car number plate with a Birmingham prefix outside the house, so Rhonda joined the Birmingham Flickr group and started a new discussion topic. “Does anyone recognise the road, she asked, “or even the people?”

A breakthrough. A man on the Birmingham group, known as Capo2, recognised the house as being typical of the area where he’d spent the first few years of his life. Not Birmingham, though. Aberdeen.

So Capo2 posted a new topic on Flickr’s Aberdeen group, with a link to the photos, asking for confirmation of his hunch. Meanwhile Rhonda posted on the Scotland group and she and others began contacting newspapers across Scotland.

It was on the Scotland Flickr group that things got really interesting, really quickly. Flickr member Greg recognised the road and, the next day, drove down it to make sure. Amazingly, he was able to pinpoint the house in the photograph and gave out the address in the thread. Another Flickrite, Andrew, googled the address and found a planning application for replacement windows on the local council’s website. (I know. Isn’t it mad?) It gave a phone number for the council member dealing with the application.

From this – presumably through phoning the council – Rhonda was able to contact the owner and landlord of the property and gave them a description of the people in the photo (and their dog!). The landlord recognised the couple straight away and passed on Rhonda’s number.

Less than a couple of hours later, a message has appeared in the Scotland thread: “Hello everyone! I’m the guy who lost the camera!!!!!”

And that’s why I love Flickr.

8 thoughts on “Why I love Flickr: A Detective Story

  1. Fantastic stuff – this is like something out of Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody book.

    The thing here is you’ve got a small number of people doing a reasonable about of work (which they find enjoyable) and a social networking site allowing lots of others to do a very small amount of work and to co-ordinate their efforts. It’s the latter that makes the difference.

    Believe it or not this sort of thing happens all the time online. Which is a really good thing!

  2. I’d never heard of Here Comes Everybody but it sounds fascinating. Another one for the Amazon wishlist!

    Yeah – I guess I should have called it “Why I love the internet” :o)

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