An amateur gumshoe

Published by Tony Quinlan on

That was fun.

On the bus last night from Paddington where I'm running the four one-day CSM courses with Dave Snowden. (Tomorrow is on narrative – shaping it, understanding it, researching it.  The next set will be in September – you really should be there! Book it here.) As the bus emptied at Warren Street tube station, I noticed something left on the seat across the aisle.

It turned out to be an Oyster card, with a name and picture of a school pupil on the front. The student had got off a few stops earlier, but I decided to pick it up and work out how to return them – I fancied the challenge of finding them and my fallback was handing it in to a bus driver if I couldn't manage it. The search begins…

  • It's an unusual surname, but a quick visit to Google on my phone produces a surprisingly large number of possibilities. But then if I'm looking for people, I don't go to Google anyway – next stop LinkedIn.
  • LinkedIn shows up a much smaller group, including one likely candidate for the student's father.  But well outside my network, and I'm not a Premium member, so can't email directly.  So I park that as a possible option later.
  • Facebook next.  Multiple people with the surname, no sign of the individual student – which is good as they're obviously younger than 13. Narrowing the search to London residents throw up the same guy I saw in LinkedIn, but with all his details restricted. It also shows up a woman who looks like a good candidate for the student's mother.  Her details are available, so I send her a message asking for her help in finding the student, not making the assumption that she is the mother – don't want to cause offence!  All so far done via the phone.
  • When I got home last night, I fired up Facebook on a full browser to work easier.  No response from potential mother, so I send the same message to potential father on Facebook.
  • I notice, however, that the woman's Facebook account isn't restricted – her photographs are accessible, so I click through to see if there's anything relevant.
  • Bingo! There are a few pictures of a young person – obviously the same student whose photograph is on the Oyster card cover.  I've found the right person
  • However, they still haven't replied (they may not be Facebook people…) so what to do.
  • Then I get lucky – Mum (or female relative, let's not be hasty) has a web capture of the student's school, showing a news story of said student winning a school award. So now I know the school the student goes to.
  • And the school is a few stops before I got on the bus – on the same route.  And the age groups it teaches bracket the rough age of the student in question, so they more than likely still go there.

So this morning, I dropped by the school (in the absence of any response to my messages) and handed in the card at reception.  This way the student should only have had to pay for their journey to school this morning – this afternoon they'll be back with their easier journey.


And I had fun doing a very simple Pinkerton's tracking assignment.


But it's an object lesson in how to connect the dots of online data that people share openly.  And an interesting complement to yesterday's news pieces about online monitoring by the government. If I can do all of that without any real effort…