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Hawaii nudging Facebook to distinguish Kailuas


Kailua is a town on the east side of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, well enough known to be a yearly vacation getaway for President Barack Obama. Kailua-Kona, 40 minutes away by plane, faces west from the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island.

You wouldn’t confuse the two towns on map. Unless, perhaps, you were trying to find them using Facebook. People and businesses who want to tag themselves on Facebook as being in Kailua — the town on Oahu — haven’t had that option.

State lawmakers representing Kailua and Kailua-Kona have introduced a resolution (HR 165) that urges Facebook to distinguish between the two towns on the social networking site. For years, lawmakers and residents said, Facebook hasn’t recognized Kailua, which has led to ongoing bewilderment when visitors try to navigate from the virtual world to real-live beach towns.

“When the consumer goes online, and they know only of Kailua, and they’re looking for Hawaii island — and don’t get us started on Hawaii the state and Hawaii the island — it’s a challenge for them,” said Vivian Landrum, president and CEO of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, which includes Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. “We’ve been used to that for a while. But with the World Wide Web, the confusion has become more widespread.”

Further muddying the picture is the tourism-friendly section of Kailua-Kona — called Kailua Village — that many people on Oahu don’t even know about, but which Facebook presents as a choice.

“Most of my friends have resigned themselves to the fact that they live on Kailua Village, despite the fact that it’s on the Big Island,” said Democratic Rep. Chris Lee, who represents Kailua and who introduced the resolution that a House committee plans to consider Wednesday. “If you’re trying to reach out to old high school friends, you’ll be completely misled about where they live.”

On Facebook, residents of Kailua can only place themselves in Lanikai, a neighborhood within Kailua, or in Kailua-Kona or Kailua Village.

Facebook didn’t respond to an email message Tuesday from The Associated Press seeking comment about the issue.

For years, Kailua web designer Daniela Stolfi-Tow has pushed Facebook to recognize Kailua, a town of about 40,000 people known for its picturesque beaches and Obama’s yearly visit. Still, confusion reigns: Facebook’s Kailua-Kona page currently features a map of Oahu.

“For businesses it’s a huge issue,” Stolfi-Tow said. “It’s offensive to a lot of people as well. We’ve got Kailua pride. Everyone here thinks we’re the (best). At some point they’ve got to give us some acknowledgement. Kailua has really made a mark. We’re on the map now.”

Faced with mismatched choices, Kailua residents and businesses have begrudgingly accepted their home in Lanikai or mistakenly picked Kailua-Kona or Kailua Village, on the other island. After years of this, the geography is a jumble.

It likely doesn’t help that on Hawaii (the Big Island) people often refer to Kailua-Kona as simply “Kailua.” But then, geographical ambiguity abounds in Hawaii (the state). There’s a Waimea on the Big Island, as well as on Kauai. Oahu has a Kahaluu while the Big Island has Kahaluu-Keauhou. And visitors have to train their ears to the near-copies: Halaula, Halawa and Haleiwa, for instance; or Kapaa, Kapaau and Kapalua, which are on three different islands.

Redundancy helps. The voicemail greeting at the Kailua Chamber of Commerce specifies that a caller has reached Oahu. That’s because the executive assistant there, Erin M. Tagupa, is weary of people confusing her town with Kailua-Kona.

“A few years back I got a woman who went off on me because I didn’t know about a Tuesday night market,” Tagupa said. The caller explained it was near Alii Drive, a beachfront street in the other town. “I said, ‘Oh, you want Kailua-Kona.’ Then: click.”

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