It’s a lucky student who gets through college without losing something. Matt Gregg talks to the founder of a novel website that might just help reunite owners and their lost property
“Now just where did I put that down? I could have sworn I had it just a minute ago. Yes, it was definitely in my pocket when I got on the bus. But where is it now? Hey, can you ring my phone so I can find it?”
I can’t remember the number of times that words to this effect have meant the start of a long and often fruitless search. However, in Ireland at least, all of that could be a thing of the past for the discerning web user.
It was a lost and found story which inspired Kevin Fagan to set up his website, lost.ie, in January of 2007. He and his girlfriend, Maura Byrne, had been enjoying a New Year break in County Clare when Maura discovered she’d lost her wallet.
“We went back to where we thought we could have lost it but we couldn’t find it,” Fagan explains. “We had to return to Dublin so we just cut our losses and cancelled the credit cards.” Anyone who has befallen a similar fate can attest to the hassle experienced when a wallet is lost.
More often than not, that would have been the end of the story – but not this time. Two weeks later, a German couple were standing on Maura’s doorstep returning her wallet.
“They had been down to County Clare themselves on a little tour around Ireland and had found her wallet by the cliffs of Moher,” Fagan continues. “They were returning to Germany via Dublin Airport, so they decided to take it upon themselves to find out where she lived and hand it back to her in person.”
It turned out that they had been able to track Maura through her membership of a local Xtravision branch, and carried her wallet with them across the country. Touched as he was by the romance of the story, Fagan thought there had to be an easier way for people to perform such acts of generosity. And so, lost.ie was born.
The website is based on the concept of a nationwide Lost Property office. If you have the misfortune of losing something, you can simply fill in a form on the website describing the item, listing your contact details and even attaching a photograph if you have one. Anyone who might find that item can then contact you and return it. By the same token, a separate form allows you to search for the owner of any lost property you might happen to stumble upon.
“The web is the perfect medium for this sort of thing,” Fagan explains, “because instead of people having to travel the length and breadth of the country to retrieve something, they could simply log on online and do all the stuff that way.” With a success rate of roughly one in ten, it appears that Fagan might well have been on to something.
Admirably, the whole site is run on a non-profit basis; Fagan argues that he can’t justify making money off items that people have lost. However, Fagan does not interfere if site users wish to offer their own rewards. However, he is quick to point out that it’s not a requirement, because to expect a reward would “defeat the Good Samaritan purpose of the website.”
The single most reported item of lost property is the digital camera. Fagan puts this down to the fact that that cameras are not something people tend to carry about on day-to-day business. The camera only becomes a de rigeur accessory on a night out; providing documentary evidence for Facebook of the good time that’s been had or helping to fill in the blanks the next day.
But cameras are not all that’s been mislaid in the last two years.
“We had one sensitive chap who’d lost a book of self-penned poems, and I’ll never forget the man whose Battleship was ‘stolen and cast afloat in a river than leads to the lake’. The poor guy had stressed that his ship was ‘NOT A TOY’!”
“The most bizarre one was a lady who had lost her car,” he chuckles. “She went out for a few drinks and she decided against driving home. When she went back to find her car, she’d forgotten which street she’d parked it on!”
Fagan says every form that’s filled out makes its way on to the site, but obviously he still casts his eye over them before publishing. “I’d cast an eye over each one just to make sure its not someone saying, you know, they’ve lost their virginity or they’ve lost their dignity.”
Watches, keys, rings, phones, dogs, cats – all have been lost and successfully found on Fagan’s website. The perhaps consciously tongue-in-cheek owner of a pair of “rose tinted spectacles”, sadly, is still looking.