Seems that Plain Layne *is* a hoax  JUN 25 2004

A quick update on the Plain Layne situation I wrote about last week. Turns out there's a strong possibility that the whole thing was a hoax after all, as many expected. Mitch of Shot in the Dark writes:

After a little digging and a little dot-connecting - some of the information is public, some known only to me - I figured out who "Layne" was. We spent about four hours talking yesterday.

I learned the whole genesis of Plain Layne. More than that, I learned the story behind the story - which, in the end, is a much more interesting tale than the whole "Layne" phenomenon itself.

For whatever reason, Mitch has decided to sit on the story for awhile. Further down in the thread, someone else proffers a theory as to whom Mitch is referring:

"Layne" was created by Odin Soli, who worked at Aptura and knew Mitch from when they worked together at Integrity Solutions. A certain "Greg" who dug up information on Aptura and presented it on Joshua's blog, mentioned that Odin Soli is a "self-professed novelist." Mitch described the person behind Layne as an "accomplished but frustrated writer."

Turns out that Odin Soli is a novelist, a Latin American specialist (Layne lived in Mexico for a time and spoke Spanish), a database administrator & webmaster (Layne was familiar with both skills), and worked for large Minnesota companies (as did Layne). He's also a lawyer and owns a house in Woodbury (Layne resided there).

If true, this is fantastic. While everyone flounders around clumsily experimenting with fake Friendster profiles and finding their voices on blogs and journals, this guy has created two entirely plausible and entertaining online characters, fleshing them out over a series of months in living, evolving narratives. A round of applause is in order here.

Thanks to Jason for passing this link along.

ps. I've noticed that (entirely unintentionally on my part) the issue of identity, truth, opinion, bias, etc. has come up a lot lately on this site. To wit, the original Plain Layne thread, Fahrenheit 9/11, Capturing the Friedmans, and probably several recent remaindered links. Must be on my mind for some reason.

Update: Who knows if this is legit or not, but here's a confession by the person who wrote both Plain Layne and Acanit. He claims to have been inspired by the Kaycee Nicole happenings:

Those stories were rotting on my hard drive, same as most stuff I write, until I stumbled across an article about Kaycee Nicole, the legendary internet hoax who supposedly died of cancer. That's when the idea of turning Acanit into a "real" character hit me. I was instantly obsessed. What would it be like to act a character instead of merely write one? Would the "realness" of the character improve suspension of belief? Could I maintain a consistently believable female character? And that's how my short stories morphed into an online diary called "The Sex Pistols are Alive and Well and Living in Sohatsenango".

The timeline of events is a little weird -- the Kaycee Nicole story broke in mid May 2001, Acanit's site has stories dating back to January 2001 -- but those entries could have been back-dated seeing as the site really does pick up steam a couple of months after the Kaycee Nicole hits the press.

There are 33 reader comments

Gene43 25 2004 1:43AM

Now I feel like an idiot for thinking she was so cute. Who posed in all the Layne photos? (Hopefully not Mrs. Odin Soli.)

Marrije15 25 2004 3:15AM

A round of applause is certainly in order. But could there even be a third layer? Odin Soli sounds like a very implausible name to me. And specialising in both Latin American and East Asian studies? My first reaction is 'wow', and the second is 'no way'. Though that may just be jealousy, of course.

Molly48 25 2004 5:48AM

What I think is interesting is that there's not been much written about identity and hoax online from an academic perspective since 1996 (see: Sherry Turkle, Sandy Stone, Julian Dibell, mocha jean herrup, Terry Senf). And yet the same themes appear time and time again -- about hoaxes, about who we are, about the contract we as online writers in whatever format make with our readers. Moreover, this topic keeps coming up at conferences -- it's just begging to be addressed in some updated way.

omit51 25 2004 7:51AM

I agree. What's also interesting is the strange attachment that people can feel to the people whom they read online. I can't believe the way that this has taken off with the people who wrote in her comments (taking over the domains, the Orkut community). At least in this case people weren't sending her gifts and money (as I think they were in the Kaycee Nicole hoax). I guess it can still all be summed up by the New Yorker comic, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

fufaraus08 25 2004 9:08AM

Reading Gibson's Idoru. Here's an interesting interview on the book theme and meaning of the title word.

http://www.salon.com/weekly/gibson3961014.html

from the article:
what was the kernel of "Idoru"? What did you start with?
I read an account somewhere -- very possibly in Karl Taro Greenfeld's "Speed Tribes" -- of an actual idoru in Japan who had not existed at all. The real idorus, as the Japanese have known them for a while, are little assembly-line girl singers who are just turned out, like 20 a month, I gather, in a way that people here just wouldn't buy. The Milli Vanilli factor is really high -- everybody knows that when you hear the record, it's probably not the girl actually singing.

So somebody took that one step further and brought out an idoru who didn't exist at all -- there simply wasn't any girl there. They had the record, and they had the pictures of her, and she became really popular. Possibly because kids knew she didn't exist.

Bill Brown42 25 2004 9:42AM

And you're sure that Odin Soli is real? All of his achievements sound just as made up as the rest. I would bet that the person is really a frustrated writer, though.

fufaraus05 25 200410:05AM

Frustrated!? With all of this attention?

kowgurl08 25 200410:08AM

Odin Soli seems too anagrammmy to be a real name.

PurpleCar09 25 200410:09AM

JK, Thanks for the update. And I appreciate your latest focus on things ficticious or censored/edited. You seem to be amused by the whole Layne story (as am I). Do you think that fiction-logs like that are good or bad? What do you think it says about where blogging is headed?

I think that major advertisers/publising companies/etc. may start inventing flogs for monetary purposes, much like American Express is creating mini-movies, 10-20 minutes long, with Jerry Seinfield and Superman. The advertising model is changing, with more creativity focus on humor, and more subliminal product-placement. Do you think blogging will become a tool in that trend? I would love to have your insights.

Wednesday White47 25 200410:47AM

Argh. Crap romanization on Gibson's part; it's "idol." They're idol singers.

And some of them do hold on for a time, through constant reinvention; Ayumi Hamasaki and the endless incarnations of Morning Musume spring to mind.

fufaraus06 25 200411:06AM

Yes, I know it's "Idol."
And the real "idol singers" thing isn't the what I was bringing up. The story, and the quote from the interview, is about an "idoru" (Rei Toi) who is actually not real, and about the fans who know that but embrace her anyway as if she's real, and how she sort of becomes "real" because of that.
I thought the paralels to the discussion about Layne, people's reading of the blog, dissappointment after the revelation that it's all a hoax, were remarkable.

Adam Howitt17 25 200411:17AM

Reverse "odin soli" to get "i los nido", Spanish for "I, the Nest". The author is trying to tell us that he nurtures his characters and tries to evolve them?

jkottke25 25 200411:25AM

Alright, everyone stop with the anagrams. You can find seemingly meaningful patterns in anything if you look hard enough.

Bomac53 25 200411:53AM

I agree with the anagram thing. His name could actually be Doi'n Lois (or lies).

Bomac00 25 200412:00PM

It's like Eddie and The Cruisers. He was never really there.

BW17 25 200412:17PM

If you go back to the original Kottke post (http://kottke.org/04/06/plain-layne) and click on the "her site" hyperlink that used to take you to Plain Layne's site, you now go to that new "Emitter" one where the guy makes his confession. I'm not a web expert, but I would say that lends credibility to the confession.

fufaraus25 25 200412:25PM

It lends credibility to the confession, but we still don't know who "Odin" really is. And if you follow the link to Rex, (who's "Update" post above leads to Emitter) then you find that he is perhaps in the tangle too....

So is it Layne? Odin? Rex?

Oy.

ryan28 25 200412:28PM

Re: Gibson - yes, it's actually "aidoru," (as you said, "idol") but maybe not as sexy a title as his chosen spelling.

fufaraus29 25 200412:29PM

maybe it's Andy Kaufman.

Chuck Olsen43 25 200412:43PM

No wonder Rex has been in hiding!

Not Odin40 25 2004 1:40PM

Uh-huh, and Jason's original post said that his knowledge of Plain Layne came from "this list of best blogs of 2002". Which is, of course, Rex's site. Da-da-dum.

not odin212 25 2004 2:12PM

First off, judging from my miniscule digging he's real. There are major problems with his personal background story, though - seems like there's a bit too much trumping up one's own credentials to say "I'm an old hand on the net, and don't be mad at me for duping you because now I'm sick too, but I did it because I was living via another persona." I don't buy everything in the emitter.dreamhost.com explanation, but he's a real person.

1. He was inspired by the Kaycee Nicole story, even though he started writing his Acanit story before Kaycee hit the big time.

2. He is a lawyer

3. He's also a Latin American specialist (what exactly does that mean?), a database administrator & webmaster, and a frustrated novelist.

4. He was working 100+ hours a week on his fledgling start-up for most/all of 2000, 2002, and part of 2002 (timeline not sure here), and most likely 1998-2000 at his first start-up.

5. In 2000, he starts to train for marathons.

6. He was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia, which is the leading cause of fatal cardiac episodes in athletes in their 30s and 40s.

Let's say Odin is 35. He would have graduated from College in (4 years) 1991. Law school in the fall of 1991 for another 4 years, making it 1995. He also became a DBA - not sure how much schooling is required to become certified there - 1 year? Unless he was a computer science undergrad, but that doesn't usually lead down the law school path. Then, foregoing his law degree and student loans, he launches his own internet startup (in 1996? probably not - maybe 1998 - so he had 1-2 years to spend in Mexico/South America/wherever to become a "Latin American Specialist"). 2000 comes and it's down with one startup and up with another. 2000-2001 he has a near-death experience and receives a pacemaker/defribillator.

While all the timeline fits, if he's 30 it doesn't work, and the last several years seem pretty sketchy to me, regardless of his actual age.

Here's info on the first startup, agdomain.com:
(you have to verify the code in order to see the whois contact info):
http://www.networksolutions.com/en_US/whois/entry.jhtml?_requestid=644573. Started in May of 1997 (apparently, he was working for/with Integrity Solutions prior to launching his startup agdomain.com)

From the kind goat breeders association in 1999:
NEW WEB SITE FOR AGRICULTURE NOW INCLUDES GOATS

AgDomain.com is an Agricultural website that launched in April, 1998. According to president Odin Soli, their mission is to provide the most user-friendly and user-useful site in agriculture. He says “ we listen to our users and give them what they want. For example, when we first launched we concentrated on the traditional livestock ‘big 3’ of beef, dairy, and swine. But after hearing from goat breeders and associations such as yourself, we made certain we served your segment of the industry too.”

http://members.aol.com/ashow/news/feb99news.htm
agdomain.com is currently a dead url.


Problem 1:
Training for a marathon, being a novelist, an alternate weblog personality and spending 100+ hours jetting from coast-to-coast working on your start-up company. There are just not enough hours in the day/week/month/year to do that.

168 hours per week less 100 hours of start-up employment = 68 hours; less a low estimate of 5 hours a night for sleep (35) = 33 hours; less 10 hours a week for marathon training (again, low) = 23 hours a week to eat, shower, shop for groceries, watch tv, and write a blog where you become an alternate personality, answer personal emails, pay bills, get gas, go to your regular hospital visits for you newly diagnosed disease, etc. Sounds like "Look at how driven I am while still being humble!"

Problem 2:
He was inspired by the girl-who-died-from-cancer hoax. Coincidentally, while he's halfway through his Layne story he developes a rare heart condition which could cause him to die. at. any. second. No one knows when he'll go. No similarities in those stories.

Problem 3:
The http://emitter.dreamhost.com/ page. the two links at the bottom (to a bio and to a links page) are both broken. The url itself is a subdomain of dreamhost.com, which has some interesting info on the "about us" page that doesn't seem to jibe with any other part of Mr. Odin's story:

We're a small company. We don't accept investment money. We're profitable.

So this cannot be Mr. Odin's first OR second startup, as he received investor funds and both his projects went south.

How did this all happen, anyway?
The Past
We at DreamHost have been happily hosting our clients' dreams (and websites) since April 1997 - close to a century ago in Internet years! That was when we (four Computer Science undergraduates at hmc.edu in Claremont, CA) launched this company with no capital apart from a single Pentium 100 web server (Destro was her name), using shared bandwidth on a T1 line that a friend gave us at no cost.


So, unless he was the mysterious benefactor donating his T1 line and is now being repaid with a subdomain, this raises yet another eyebrow. Why post the 'big revelation' on a subdomain of a webhosting company?

Next, from isnt.com , where odin is listed as a 'missing alumni' of workers from the integrity solutions (is, isn't, get it?) history:

1992
Integrity Solutions Founded
11/1996
Integrity Solutions moved to:
2900 Lone Oak Pkwy
Suite #130
Eagan MN
11/1997
Key Investments purchased and merged Integrity Solutions, MSP Interactive, and some people from talentsoft to become KeyTech
09/1998
Key Investments and Yamamoto Moss spun off elements of KeyTech and Yamamoto Moss to create AisleFive
04/03/2000
KeyTech became IS.com
11/2000
IS.com acquired by WAM!NET
12/2000
AisleFive became independent from Key Investments and Yamamoto Moss and was renamed Aveus

Whatever. After all this nonsense, Odin's but the personal timeline and stories in his emitter.dreamhost.com explanation don't gel - and the emitter page never actually lists his real name.

Should it be that easy to believe someone who's created two fake personas and maintained them for an extended period of time? What kind of 35-40 year old man lives vicariously through a 20-something year-old girl who has wild adventures, while he's got a wife, child, heart condition, and does all the other various activities that would tax even the most effecient and driven?

It'd be interesting to hear from some of the employees of the 2nd startup that got duped, used, then dumped.

At best, a slightly interesting explanation from the perspective of someone who never followed any of these stories. Flog indeed.

fufaraus30 25 2004 2:30PM

Has anyone else spotted this tidbit on the emitter site yet?
http://emitter.dreamhost.com/images/emittertitle.jpg

ginny29 25 2004 3:29PM

I wondered about that too. It seems like he'd set up the emitter domain name to do the same thing all over again, then things blew up.

fufaraus57 25 2004 3:57PM

NotOdin2, by "he" do you mean "Odin" or "Rex" or both? ;)

Kevin08 25 2004 4:08PM

Yes, but does anything explain why Plain Layne was stopped?

Calling Frequency48 25 2004 4:48PM

EMITTER is just a site template I created for the character that turned out to be Layne way back when. I really liked the theme, but didn't wind up using it. It rotted on my hard drive all these years -- until I dug it out of storage at 2 AM last night and used it myself. I love the circularity.

Like I've already said, Layne is probably more believable than me.

ess43 25 2004 5:43PM

If the Layne creater gets a book deal out of this, will payment be shared among all the posters who helped move the story along?

lia12 25 2004 6:12PM

So, unless he was the mysterious benefactor donating his T1 line and is now being repaid with a subdomain, this raises yet another eyebrow. Why post the 'big revelation' on a subdomain of a webhosting company?

You should've read through Dreamhost's site more carefully, this is hardly a smoking gun. Any customer who signs up for one of their webhosting packages who doesn't have their own domain name can choose to use subdomainoftheirchoice.dreamhost.com instead.

Liza Sabater33 26 200412:33AM

Jason,

There is a famous, and I mean HUGE blog in Argentina called WEBLOG DE UNA MUJER GORDA or "A fat woman's blog" ( http://mujergorda.bitacoras.com/ ). It's supposed to be the blog of Mirta Bertotti, a 50 something housewife living in Buenos Aires with her cooky family. The "family" has been described as the Osbournes of Latin America. You check their bios and there are photos, links to their friends peppered with Mirta's gossip.

The blog is actually written by Hernan Casciari, a founder of BITACORAS.COM, one of the biggest Latin American portals for Spanish-language blogs. The writing is brilliant. The characters totally real. I just don't know where does the man find the time to write. He hides his authorship terribly but I really don't know if he was outed and has opted to downplay it. Still, if you are not looking for an author and believe the character is the writer, the stories are asbolutely believable.

Cheers.

Ryan Schultz50 26 2004 1:50PM

O.K. as the person who a) formed the Orkut community and b) picked up the domain names when Odin threew them away, there's a couple of things I can clear up.

BW: I deliberately had redirected the original domain names, plainlayne.dreamhost.com and sedalina.dreamhost.com, to the Emitter after Odin very politely asked us to take down the Plain Layne Archive we had created. As the author of Plain Layne, he had that right and we respected it.

You can go to my blog to see what else I've had to say about the Plain Layne saga since Odin took his site offline. Rather than repeat myself over and over again (frankly, I've already had as much cynicism and bullshit as I can stand thrown at me, including being labelled as psychotic and sadistic for the actions I've taken), please just find the blogpost on my blog with the four video clips and watch those.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

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