Unreal or Really Real?
June 15, 2004 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Plain Layne, a compelling weblogger from Minneapolis, appears to have disappeared (in the internet sense) leaving many of her cult followers grasping at straws. Aside from the cryptic Polish message left on her site, many are wondering: Was she even real?
posted by KevinSkomsvold (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry, but I can't possibly see how this is relevant to the war in iraq.
posted by angry modem at 8:50 PM on June 15, 2004

Maybe somebody tied a bunch of balloons to her.
posted by Stan Chin at 8:57 PM on June 15, 2004

Oh Kev, you grew a pair waiting, didn't you?

Well, I'm down for seeing how the MeFi shakes it out.
posted by fenriq at 8:59 PM on June 15, 2004

Oh Kev, you grew a pair waiting, didn't you?

Heheh.. Nah, I just found the Mason Jar where my wife kept them hidden away.

I really tried to work in an Iraq angle but to no avail.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:23 PM on June 15, 2004

Maybe somebody tied a bunch of balloons to her.

I love you guys.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:26 PM on June 15, 2004

Back on Topic: I've read her stuff for the last three years and it really drew me in. Aside from the occasional "I'm taking a break - see ya later" kinda thing, this seems to be causing quite a stir.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:28 PM on June 15, 2004

To the point that it's neat to play Encyclopedia Brown and amass clues as to whether a person is real or not, more power to them. It is fun, and I find it entertaining to read their going all spytech.

As to people feeling "betrayed" and "used".... I just don't get that at all. It's entertaining. Who cares? I might be a bit disappointed if I found out one of my fave bloggers was making stuff up, but I wouldn't go projecting that into a crime on their end.

(Kaycee Nicole-type incidents being in a different category for obvious reasons.)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:35 PM on June 15, 2004

That friendster link from Kottke's comments showed she last logged in 6/14. We sure that's the same person?
posted by swell at 9:35 PM on June 15, 2004

There is an Iranian angle in the thread on Noematic, is that close enough, angry modem?

Actually, I'm also a long time reader of Plain Layne. The speculation currently runs along the lines of Layne actually being Acanit. Or a creative writing class run amok.

On Preview: Swell, yeah, I'm linked to her on Friendster as well.
posted by fenriq at 9:41 PM on June 15, 2004

Following around the discussion, this link seems to have the best rundown I've found so far.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:49 PM on June 15, 2004

When something unfortunate happens to people in real life, I tend to find that they rarely have time to leave cryptic, well-designed Polish messages on their website beforehand.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:13 PM on June 15, 2004

NOTE! Modernization of server lasts! Services will be effective from half of june. We apologize.

Isn't it possible that her web server is down for maintenance?
posted by emelenjr at 10:24 PM on June 15, 2004

It sounds more like she's just looking for attention, if she's real.
posted by cmonkey at 10:28 PM on June 15, 2004

So where's the definitive Wiki on this stuff? Kaycee Nicole, Hot Abercrombie Chick, Plain Layne... There have got to be a dozen of these fiction-as-autobiography hoaxes already. And with starting a site getting easier by the day, I'm wondering if the number of these cases will outpace the energy of fact-check-your-ass web mob hoaxbusting. There's only a so many "let's get to the bottom of this" campaigns a geek can take.

That said, I'm sure glad the web drama I was tangled up in came before fisking became a professional sport...
posted by pzarquon at 10:30 PM on June 15, 2004

Could this have something to with it?
posted by Trik at 10:35 PM on June 15, 2004

Ugh, I thought of my response before I actually went looking for the translation. Not Babelfish, Poltran. Which I now see was mentioned in the comments to one of those links up there.

scarabic, did you kill her?
posted by emelenjr at 10:41 PM on June 15, 2004

this link seems to have the best rundown I've found so far.

details of your personal business must be found via google and you must have met another blogger in the flesh... or you're not real...? this is some batshit crazy logic. it's blogic™ ...!
posted by t r a c y at 10:47 PM on June 15, 2004

Yes Tracy. I've personally pressed the flesh of many a blogger who's identity was in question...

If I read those threads long and hard enough, it does appear for a split second that they're on to something; maybe some sort of communal literary project channeled through a "Layne Johnson". But then again, I've chatted with Layne via IM quite a bit back in the day and find it quite difficult to believe that someone could keep a facade up for so long and so consistently. I'm sure when she surfaces again, it will be business as usual.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:57 PM on June 15, 2004

Tracy, what are the odds that someone who writes with so much personal information, hasn't stated from the outset that her aim is to keep her true identity a secret, has communicated with many people via email, and has aggred to real-world meetings and related (but not followed through)...

...would have no one who's ever met her in the flesh and can assert she's a real person?

blogic™ seems, in this case, to be perfectly reasonable and not some insane troll logic.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:28 PM on June 15, 2004

i can't answer you EB because according to insane blogic™, and your odds, i'm not a real person. and who the heck said anything about trolls...? no need to answer, i'm going to sleep now. the instructional video for my new cappuccino maker induces narcolepsy. g'night !
posted by t r a c y at 11:54 PM on June 15, 2004

I thought for sure you'd get a Buffy reference.

If you disappeared or otherwise your authenticity was called into question, you're saying that there's no one in MeFi—or the whole blogosphere—likely to speak up and say, "Hey, I've met t r a c y! She's real." Or someone who's met Zarah who can verify you? Or whatever? The whole six-degree of seperation thing makes it pretty hard for an online person not hiding their identity to not have had real-world interaction with other online people. Yeah, as Kevin says, he's known people whose identities have been questioned, but, um, did he speak up? And when a story gets big enough to hit MeFi, for example ('cause I had no idea who this Layne person was), the odds increase dramatically that if the person is real someone will say so.

The fact that this hasn't happened yet with Layne is pretty suspicious, I think.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:44 AM on June 16, 2004

Why do so many blog readers become so obsessed with the reality of the person blogging?

Three years is a good run for a not well known blogger, perhaps she just called it a day and decided to stop.
posted by DBAPaul at 5:35 AM on June 16, 2004

many are wondering: Was she even real? : Many more have decided that few bloggers are real.
posted by mischief at 7:16 AM on June 16, 2004

None of you are real.

Do the voices in my head bother you? I'll try to shush them.
posted by Vidiot at 7:53 AM on June 16, 2004

Oh, dear. She once left this comment on my blog on my birthday. I've been flattered by a fiction.

posted by jonmc at 8:41 AM on June 16, 2004

It just amazes me how hard it is for some people to admit that an online personality can be a fake. They get all caught up in the drama, create a person in their own minds based on the words, develop a relationship with it, maybe even exchange e-mails... and somehow all of that makes them certain that that person really exists, and they get all bent out of shape if someone suggests otherwise. That noematic thread was great: as the evidence got stronger and stronger, some people desperately clung to "no, Layne can't be fake!" and others said things like
I can't believe what an asshole this person is that is pulling this off. They're probably working on their next webpage ideas, waiting to scam another audience
as if creating an online personality were on a par with taking somebody's life savings. I like "Joshua"'s take on it:
I guess my point is, people do this on the internet (I suspect lots of people do it, but that could just be me projecting) and they're not always looking to fuck people around or even, necessarily, to fool people. I posted the disclaimer on my link to Layne because I felt like she was trying to fool me, and I don't like to be fooled in public. But I'm not actually pissed off that Plain Layne may be fiction. Nor do I assume any malice on the author's part. What I assume is that he or she started writing a fictional or semi-fictional character. The character was a big hit, and the author got invested in the attention and approval Layne gets. And that's really the only part of all this that seems slightly weird to me. Though whether it says more about the author of Plain Layne, or about us, depends on where you're standing.
What I don't get is this commenter's attitude: "It seems worth caring about people, whether they are fictional or not." But I see this indifference to the boundary between reality and fantasy all the time on MeFi. Kids these days...

Great post, Kevin!

On preview: I'll bet that "world series of poker 2004" isn't a real person either, jon. Damn these imposters!
posted by languagehat at 8:58 AM on June 16, 2004

The server maintenance page is almost certainly fake. Her host is Dreamhost in Los Angeles -- trace it and see. Why would they post a maintenance message in Polish? "Plain Layne" was probably making a play on "her" initials (what's the national TLD for Poland?).

And the page is not server-generated: The current date/time is spat out by JavaScript based on your local system time.

Personally, I think this is terrific fun, but ... dammit... I've got to actually do some work today at some point...

Changing gears: I once dated a woman who confessed to having something in the neighborhood of 30 personals profiles on various personals sites, all but three or four completely bogus. Her identities ranged from a 13 year old punk grrl, to a middle aged male Brigham Young psych prof. Personally, I never got how she pulled it off; I recongized several of her bogus profiles based on common themes and prose style, and her writing style (while correct) was very idiosyncratic. But people (and particularly guys) want to believe what they want to believe...

Did that make me wary of her? Not really; she never told me anything that I didn't at least conditionally verify, and I bought her story that she just did it because she was bored between busy periods at work.
posted by lodurr at 9:58 AM on June 16, 2004

More data: Anyone really curious about this who understands her blogging software: There's still an index.php at that site, looking for input.

Hack away....
posted by lodurr at 10:04 AM on June 16, 2004

what are the odds that someone who writes with so much personal information, hasn't stated from the outset that her aim is to keep her true identity a secret,

I can relate to this from my own online life and it's a really weird situation to be in. For a good long while, I was doing my "entries" almost daily. Each one was very personal. Though I never came right out and said that I was trying to keep my "real life" separate from my online one, it certainly was a priority, and when I "broke" that promise to myself it was always with much consideration and worry.

Personally, I think it's safe to assume that unless someone goes out of their way to "reveal their identity" (meet in person, whatever), you should assume they want to be left "alone", not that it's just a fluke that they haven't met in person.

The whole "online celebrity" thing can be downright creepy for the person in question. Though I had no photos of me on my site, I had numerous instances of people "recognizing" me in public. They'd made the leap of logic from things I'd mentioned in entries: a piece of clothing, a bar, a type of drink ordered, a band mentioned (and me being at their concert), my shoes, the type of dog I have, etc.. It got to the point that I would have to weigh where I was going and what I was wearing and who I was going to be with and whether I wanted to be "exposed" in front of them or not--either that or I'd be second guessing everything I wrote and "faking" stuff, which defeated the project's original goals.

I gotta admit it's not something I ever came to terms with and is part of the reason I stopped doing the project, which is unfortunate as I quite enjoyed it. I question people who think that the person providing them with entertainment--or whatever they're getting out of it--owes them anything beyond the entertainment itself, if that!

"Sleuthing out" an online personality is just plain wrong and, in my opinion, a betrayal on the part of the detective, regardless of his or her motives.

Yes, if someone's pulling a scam and taking in megabucks under false pretenses, I can understand it. But "outing" somoene because they've decided they can't/won't/don't want to continue something that they started of their own volition is rude, selfish, and not something to be proud of and advertise on your own blog.
posted by dobbs at 10:45 AM on June 16, 2004

dobbs, I'm sympathetic to your viewpoint. I'm not real keen on revealing a lot of personal info about myself, either. But it does seem to me that if you are putting that kind of info on the web, you need to be prepared to do one of two things:

1 - Deal with it.

2 - Fictionalize yourself (even if only in your own mind...which, I suppose, is the same as [1]).

I've got some fairly personal stuff out there; not blindingly easy for most people to find (though easy to google). I deal with it; it's been found and noted before, and I deal with it. I wouldn't have put it there if I were *that* afraid of it.

At this point, I think there's some kind of game being played here, anyway. From reading a few days of posts, I'm hard put to take the opinion that Miss Poland is *fake* in the sense of having made up everything; I'm still thinking this is an enhanced reality (i.e., she's fictionlized herself). Now s/he's looking for an artful way to self-out (or disappear), hence enigmatic touches like a fake error message in another language after redirecting to an obsolete address (and BTW, folks, hasn't anyone tried checking out that other machine name?).

If she really wanted to disappear, she'd just delete the accounts; simple. But both still exist. All very curious....
posted by lodurr at 11:13 AM on June 16, 2004

I thought for sure you'd get a Buffy reference.

oh geeeez and i just watched that ep recently...! i'm a bad, bad buffy fan. i'm sorry that flew over my head EB, heh. anyway, no, there is no one on mefi or in the blogosphere who has met me in the flesh, and can vouch for my realness in that specific way. why should there be...? sure it would be fun to meet one or 2 of you in meatspace one day, but it's not a priority or something i see as a requirement for maintaining a certain level of trust in a virtual friendship. there are people outside the blogger part of the internet who have proof of my existence (and zars'), such as family and colleagues, but tracking any one of them down and then getting them to respond would be a big problem. a blogger-sleuth would be rightly considered some sort of crazed stalker/whackjob and then dealt with accordingly.

if someone is real of course proof always exists, but will the people that have it give it to you...? not always. will you always find it in some google-able article or website...? no. the world is not as well wired as it appears, you can't track everyone down this way. of course there are fakes, but the details of these incidents shouldn't be used as a guideline for determining other people's realness.

(spell check never fails to amuse. blogosphere = blooper)
posted by t r a c y at 11:49 AM on June 16, 2004

I live in the Twin Cities and am producing a documentary about blogs, which means that I've personally met everyone in our little regional blog club... except Layne. I've been trying to interview or at least meet her since 2002, to no avail. That's not to say she's not real of course, but it does lead me to believe she has fictionalized at least part of her life story - which would be much more difficult to pull off in person, especially being interviewed.

It's one thing to keep it together in writing, but body language and slips of the tongue aren't easy to control.

Regardless, I'm very fond of Layne. Whether her life is real or fictionalized, she wrote about it in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining way that drew me in and made me reflect on my own past. The "people that live in Layne's comment box" found each other because of Layne, and apparently now continue on without her.

This is really an amazing story in the history of the blogosphere. We're scrambling to find this ghost, only to find ourselves.
posted by Dok Millennium at 2:09 PM on June 16, 2004

She's really Dave Winer.
posted by mecran01 at 4:29 PM on June 16, 2004

Dok, that's actually one of the most accurate sentiments I've yet read about the Plain Layne affair, "The "people that live in Layne's comment box" found each other because of Layne, and apparently now continue on without her. "

And that's a nice way to leave things.
posted by fenriq at 5:08 PM on June 16, 2004

Now, many are believing this confession (via kottke) who does cites Kaycee Nicole. Of course we still lack proof and identitiry.
posted by DBAPaul at 11:35 AM on June 25, 2004

The author's identity does remain unknown, though (if the confession is bona fide, as it appears) we do know he's a man. (The original Plain Layne link, which till today hosted a reconstructed archive of the site, now links to the confession.)

Various Layne fans did some detective work and concluded that the author is Odin Soli, as kottke mentions. See the comments here and here.
posted by macrone at 1:49 PM on June 25, 2004

Too bad more people won't see this thread. Interesting that it did, in fact, turn out to be a hoax and was partly inspired by Kaycee.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:12 PM on June 25, 2004

Just in case there's ever any confusion later on, and to avoid any potential running-around-putting-together-clues kind of scenes that would really only be more embarrassing than necessary, I just want you all to know that I really am the Pope.

And you people keep awfully late hours.
posted by yhbc at 9:41 PM on June 25, 2004

Well, you'll be dead soon, so it's a moot point.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:35 PM on June 25, 2004

Ryan is pissed off:
I was very surprised when my phone rang at work, and Odin Soli was on the line! (I shouldn't have been; last week, when he emailed and said he wanted to talk both to me and to Kevin Skomsvold of nadablog, I did give him both my home and work telephone numbers).

He asked me to pass on this clarification:

Odin Soli did NOT have permission from any of the people whose photographs he used in the Plain Layne blog. Therefore, if you use these photographs, you do so at your own risk.

(Oh boy, are you in trouble, Odin. If I were the woman whose photos you "borrowed" for Layne Johnson, you'd be hamburger by now.)

And then he asked if I could transfer the plainlayne and sedalina domain names back to him, and this time, I put my foot down. ENOUGH ALREADY.

ENOUGH. Even we people-pleaser types have our limits. Odin discarded the domain names the first time, and then, after I had bought them and offered them back to him, he refused them. I set them up originally to point to the re-created Plain Layne Archive, and after the archive was taken down at Odin's request, I redirected plainlayne/sedalina traffic to his Emitter site, and then he asked me to point them away from him.

And now he wants them back   after all this rigamarole?!? Nuh-uh. No way. I bought them, I'm keeping them and once it's ready, I'm pointing them to a stable redirect page and they're staying put!

Oh, and the next time I offer to "help", could someone please just take me aside and bitch-slap some sense into me? Thank you.
posted by languagehat at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2004

For the sake of the archive, an interview with Odin Soli.
posted by rex at 4:24 PM on June 29, 2004

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