Networks: (Facebook) Friends helping friends!

As the semester comes to a close, I realize that I love talking about the Internet. No regrets! For my final blog post, I will be talking about a lighthearted use of networks (and the networking of networks) to conclude on a happy ending.

A few days ago, a man named Alex took his car in for repairs and found an iPhone 4S was trapped in his airbag compartment. Based on the date which the phone was set to, he assumed it had been stuck there for years. Not knowing how to figure out who the phone belonged to, he posted a status and photo of the phone to Facebook, calling to his network of friends to try and figure out who the phone may have belonged to. Hilarity ensued. The full thread of comments (and the story in more detail) can be read here. Ultimately, Alex found the owner of the phone, but not without the use of and inclusion of all kinds of networks (and the networking of networks).

His network of Facebook friends began giving advice and input on ways to figure out the phone’s owner; someone suggested plugging the phone into his computer as there would likely be a message asking for approval to connect to “______’s iPhone”. This resulted in the discovery that it was “Sully’s iPhone,” however Alex didn’t remember a Sully. Further clues appeared though, such as a notification from the dating app called Coffee Meets Bagel from someone named Bonnie.

These notifications, along with other details from the phone, were remixed by Alex’s network of Facebook friends. They conjured up stories, shared information to other networks such as Craigslist (on the ‘missed connections’ page). The post went a bit viral – the network of people involved grew due to Facebook’s technological affordances. They designed hypothetical t-shirts for the people involved in this network. The search became a bit of an online meme, and the people involved a community sharing a common goal.

Funnily enough, there was a response to the Craigslist missed connections ad! From someone who worked for the app, Coffee Meets Bagel. Based on the information, they were able to identify the Sully who the phone belonged to. This is indicative of how networks grow and the way the nodes interact. Craigslist, irrelevant to the initial network of Alex and his Facebook friends, became the connection to another network – Coffee Meets Bagel. The fluctuating nature of the network allowed for the owner of the iPhone to be found. Of course, there is some concern to about the collection and storage of data by dating apps which could be acknowledged as well, however I mentioned above that this was meant to be a lighthearted post.

Thanks to the response from the Coffee Meets Bagel employee, Alex was able to find Sully on Facebook and introduced him to the network of people who had worked so hard to find him. There was a bittersweet reaction: a celebration of success in conjunction with sadness it had all ended. What Sully, Alex, and the users ignored was the role of networks in this happy ending. It would’ve been impossible without them.

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