Lose $5, you’re bummed.
Lose your wallet, you’re bummed and annoyed, because you’ve got to spend the next hour canceling credit cards and protecting your identity.
But lose your cell phone or your camera or your laptop, and the world feels like it’s crashing in on you. That’s not just because those items cost so much more than pocket change, but because they contain friends’ phone numbers you never memorized, priceless photographs of your honeymoon, one-of-a-kind videos of your newborn, the screenplay you’ve been working on since college, and other entirely irreplaceable information that we 21st centurions now house digitally, and often, albeit stupidly, in one place.
With so much to lose, there’s never been a better time for a global lost and found department, and thanks to Santa Barbara residents Andrew Lee and James Tamplin, that dream is now a reality. On September 16, Lee and Tamplin unveiled SendMeHome.com, which they are billing as the world’s first entirely free online lost and found recovery service. One week later, their Web site’s been looked at more than 5,000 times, and more than 500 folks have signed up to register their valuables in the hope that, if lost, the person who finds them will be honest enough to return them. And in a confident test of their business, the duo - who met during their high school days in Minnesota and recently reunited after going to different Midwestern colleges - is giving Independent.com 10 of their personal items to lose. We’ll be tracking their recovery for the next couple weeks.
How It Works
Signing up for SendMeHome.com is easy: Simply go to the Web site, create an account with your email address and a password, and then start registering the items you’d like to protect. Then either purchase a set of sticky, weatherproof labels from the company (their only source of revenue, and not much at $2.50 for a sample pack, $17 for a 60-pack, and all combos and sizes in between) or print out the labels yourself; write on the labels the tracking number provided by the Web site; affix them to your items; and carry on with your life. When life deals you a lost item, tell the Web site it’s missing and cross your fingers that some good-hearted or karma-concerned soul finds your stuff, logs onto the Web site, and follows the easy steps to return your property.
While that’s easy enough - so long as the finder has Internet access, recognizes the SendMeHome.com URL address, and knows what to do with it - the bigger question is whether people will actually return lost items, especially ones with inherent value, such as a laptop or cell phone or camera. “We’ve been getting feedback like, ‘No one’s going to give that stuff back,’” explained cofounder Andrew Lee while dropping off his items-to-lose at The Independent‘s offices on Tuesday. “I don’t really think that’s true.”
Lee’s optimism, who initially moved to Santa Barbara to work for Green Hills Software, is reflected in the eyes of his friend and cofounder James Tamplin, who came up with the idea in July after losing his cell phone in a bar in Madison, Wisconsin. In the company’s press release issued on Monday, Tamplin explained, “We believe that our users will be thankful for the money and hassle they are spared, but I think they will be even more pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers.”
There is, of course, evidence that people are honest - nearly every school, airport, hotel, library, concert venue, restaurant, and bar in the country has some sort of lost and found protocol, if not an entire department, and entire newspaper sections are even devoted to the exchange. And that lost and found tradition has extended to modern technology as well. “We’re using craigslist as a precedent for this,” said Tamplin, referring to that site’s successful though very simple lost and found service. As well, a number of competing companies exist, but Tamplin and Lee said they charge for their services both up front and when an item is recovered. Presumably, so many options for returning lost items wouldn’t exist if people didn’t actually do such a thing.
But despite all this history of losing, finding, and returning, the prevailing notion around town is that people won’t return items of value. Even here in the halls of The Independent, where sentiments generally lean toward the positive - at least when not on deadline - staffers were pretty pessimistic about the chances of getting valuable items returned. One opinionated employee even went so far as to call the entire idea “foolish.”
To combat the naysayers and test their business, Lee and Tamplin have given Independent.com 10 items to lose, ranging from cell phones and hard drives to an iPod and two wallets full of money. “We’ve already got the rest of our lives invested in this thing,” explained Lee, “so we might as well put in our wallets too.” Tamplin, who left his credit cards in his wallet and gave away his only cell phone, summed it up as “the life of a start-up company.”
Specifically, these are the items:
- two leather wallets with cash and credit cards
- three functioning cell phones
- one functioning Skype phone
- one portable hard drive
- one compact flash card for a Nikon camera
- one USB flash drive
- one iPod shuffle
All the items are labeled with tracking numbers. When one is found, presumably The Independent will be emailed and we will retrieve the item. Unlike other lost and found companies, SendMeHome.com is not involved in retrieval, because the founders thought it too costly and a delay in the return of an item. “We don’t get involved in returning the items,” said Lee. “All we do is facilitate anonymous conversations.”
Once an item is lost, the Web site allows a user to explain where the item might have been misplaced and offer a reward for the return. The Indy won’t be offering any money for returned items, but SendMeHome.com is offering a free pack of labels.
By this article’s dateline, a handful of items have already been “lost” and reported on the Web site. When items are returned, we will write an update and keep this experiment ongoing as long as needed.
And before the blogosphere starts attacking our flawed scientific method, all involved are aware that results could be skewed simply by making this test public. But for the sake of fun and community awareness, we’re ready to take that chance.
So be on the lookout for lost items, and be kind enough to give them back.