How Facebook, Google, and Old-Fashioned Shoe Leather Helped Break Story on the Guy Who Found the iPhone

Last week,’s Threat Level scooped the rest of the tech world by identifying the guy who appears to be the person who found the next-gen iPhone (and subsequently sold it to Gizmodo).

Threat Level writer Brian X. Chen now reveals on his personal blog how they did it.

It started with a single-word comment the alleged finder, Brian Hogan, posted on someone’s Facebook wall—which happened to be noticed by former intern Rose Roark. (As SNL’s Hip Hop Kids would say, “What’re the odds?!”)

Hogan’s own Facebook profile soon disappeared, but the team dove into the profiles of several other commenters on that wall and discovered that some were students at Santa Barbara City College. A Google search of “Brian Hogan SBCC” revealed that Hogan had been part of a 2008 study-abroad program. The the program had a Facebook page, so senior editor Kevin Poulsen started sending friend requests to everyone in the group.

Where the shoe leather came in, after the jump.

Meanwhile, using an online people-tracking site, the team discovered an address for Hogan that was located one mile away from the bar where the iPhone had been found. gadgets and tech editor Dylan Tweney drove to the house. When he found it empty, he started interviewing neighbors—just like they taught us in the days before we could just reach out and “friend” someone.

Eventually, Hogan’s lawyer contacted because the team was apparently “shaking too many branches.” And the rest, they say, is history.

As debates rage about whether Gizmodo was in the right to put down cold hard cash for the “appropriated” phone, Chen says he hopes that sharing the backstory to’s scoop will send “a message that journalism is still very much alive, even if in the chaotic world of the internet it comes in many shapes and forms.”

Publish date: May 3, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT