There's a saying that gets bandied about the blogosphere occasionally when someone calls upon the digitally collected masses to help out in a situation: The internet is not your personal army.
Unless you are The New York Times technology columnist David Pogue, that is.
With a single Tweet sent yesterday to his 1.4 million Twitter followers, Pogue let the world in on what became a riveting, crowd-sourced, five-hour hunt for a missing gadget. This story has a happy ending too, with the phone safely in the hands of a Prince George's County Police Department officer, set to be express mailed back to Pogue.
It all began, according to Pogue, on Monday night as he was returning from Philadelphia to his home in Bridgeport, Conn., via Amtrak. As he was preparing to disembark, he noticed that his iPhone was gone.
"I was baffled; I hadn’t even stirred from my seat except to get something from the cafe car, and I was sure to take my phone with me for that mission," wrote Pogue in his New York Times blog. "Maybe I was pickpocketed. Maybe I’d set it down to pay for the food. I don’t know."
He immediately tried tracking the phone through an Apple's Find My iPhone application, which allows one to pinpoint the location of an iPhone from a computer. But it was of no use, at first. His phone had apparently been turned off.
Three days later, though, luck changed when Pogue received an alert from the Find My iPhone application telling him that the phone had been turned on and was located in Seat Pleasant, roughly 250 miles south of Pogue's home in Bridgeport.
Thus, Pogue raised his army, helped along by Gizmodo, which poured a considerable amount of effort into researching the neighborhood where the wayward iPhone had ended up. Gizmodo went live with the whole thing, posting minute-by-minute updates as it learned details of Pogue's iPhone pickle.
Among Pogue's army was Lt. Bill Alexander an off-duty Prince George's County Police Department tech officer who was following the story. Assisted by two other county officers, Cpl. Paul Pepitone and Sgt. Manny Rivera, they went to the Seat Pleasant address where Pogue's phone was pinging. Within 90 minutes of county police being alerted to the situation, the phone had been located lying in the backyard.
"No one is under arrest. It's not even clear a crime was committed. It's not unusual for a citizen to call the department and say they've lost their phone and ask police to find it based on the pings," wrote Prince George's County Police Public Information Officer Julie Parker in a press release. "What's pretty rare is to actually get the phone back. Rarer still, to have the owner be a technology columnist who used technology to help find it."
In his blog post, Pogue aknowledged that he is incredibly lucky to have such a large social media fanbase, which greatly aided the effort to return his phone.
But in offering a comment to the county police, Pogue also praised the shoe-leather detective work which reunited him with his phone.
"In the end, it was good old-fashioned police work that covered that last mile to recovering the phone," said Pogue according to county police. "My hat is off to PGPD!"