Is Neuronet A Scam? {Update 12}

There’s a bit of press (hype?) making the rounds on something called Neuronet (Link or maybe this Link), a supposed plan for a fiber optic-based, virtual reality-centric network intended to be separate from what we now call the Internet. It would, according to the website, supposedly be “the first network designed from the ground up specifically for the transmission of real-time virtual reality data.” Considering that I’ve argued that the future of online Metaverse-style technology isn’t just 3D but a mashup of both 2D (websites) and 3D (virtual worlds), the exclusion of the current Internet rang alarm bells in my head. This doesn’t make sense to me, so I did a bit of digging.

The obvious first step was to take a look at their site… actually sites. The first thing I noticed is a lack of substance to not just some, but all of the claims. There’s plenty of handwaving, but nothing that I couldn’t make up and post in a fictitious site in a day or two. It is, as the saying goes, a lot of talk with nothing to show (except the pretty website itself).

Let’s examine some of what that talk is:

  • The Neuronet is sponsored by the International Association of Virtual Reality Technologies (IAVRT).
  • From what I can tell the “International Association of Virtual Reality Technologies” is nothing more than the website. A quick search indicates that their history appears to go back to when they registered the domain name… a whole month and a half ago. Unless of course you check the other link I provided which is a duplicate site and goes back to March 2006 (maybe it had another name then, which would account for the switch from “iabit” to “iavrt”). That’s a frighteningly short time, all things considered.

    Of additional interest is that both domain registrations are

    – a) registered by Go Daddy which is, from my experience, one of the favored services for scammers and hackers, and

    – b) devoid of organizational information so that there is apparently no public information provided when a WhoIs search is conducted.

    Suspicious yet? I certainly am.

  • IAVRT is an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering scientific research and business development in the area of Virtual Reality (VR) technology for the benefit of society.
  • Now when I read that they’re an “international not-for-profit organization” that really piques my interest because “not-for-profit” is such a worthless tag. I can set up a non-profit too, and I’ll ensure the company never turns a profit by raising my own salary to prevent that from happening. So I dig a little deeper.

    I’m not sure that there’s a registry for “international not-for-profit” organizations (you’d think there would be, but I’ve not yet been successful in finding one… though I’m trying and may have found it at UIA.org, only I’m now waiting for my account to be activated to check on IAVRT’s non-profit status, assuming it’s registered and available to me).

    Lacking any other ideas, I decided to determine something about their location, so I did a search using, among other entries, “280 Nelson St” Vancouver BC”. That yielded some interesting bits such as the marijuana seed distributor apparently operating in the building. Of note was that there is both a Mailboxes Etc listed as a WiFi Hotspot and a fair number of what appear to me to be internet-only businesses run at that location; everything from what I suspect are earnest operations to questionable website-only redirection services. My guess is, based on the Google Map image of the location, that this is a converted warehouse that’s home to any number of tiny, artsy, web-based operations nestled in among a few more traditional outfits. Additionally, there seemed to me to be a healthy web design and support community (e.g. Infectious, Siberix, PowrTools Software, etc) at this location. That could easily explain the professional-looking site they have. In fact, it’s possible that IAVRT is nothing more than a front for a web-based outfit.

    That last thought leads me to this comment on their Neuronet Domain Names Open Letter (Link):

    Recognizing the considerable value of domain names in this new space, IAVRT will offer Neuronet domain names on a pre-registration basis in order to support the creation of the second generation Neuronet. It should be noted however, that Neuronet domains and their associated neurosites, will not become widely accessible to consumers until 2009 at the earliest.

    Now I’m almost certain this is a scam. Pre-registrations for what? Heck, they may as well be leasing Mars condos, afaic. But at least this operation covers it ass:

    In the future, Neuronet domain names may rival or exceed the value of Internet domain names, but until the Neuronet is mass-market accessible, investing in Neuronet domains should be considered speculative.

    Interesting how the beginning of the letter starts with declarative statements such as “In 2007, the International Association of Virtual Reality Technologies (IAVRT) will launch the Neuronet to facilitate the global transmission of immersive virtual reality (VR) data.” or “Ultimately, the Neuronet will be able to provide mass-market VR and gaming connectivity on a global scale.” and the not-IF-but-“When that occurs, a tipping point will be reached that will in many ways mirror that of the Internet.“, but then gives us the whole “it’s all speculative” spiel.

    Now that I feel like I have a real sense of what’s going on I go back to my hunch that this is a web developer with a get-rich-quick scheme. The best lead I had was the “iavrt” = “iabit” thing, so I do a quick search on “iabit” itself and find something interesting: a link to a press page on that domain that isn’t IAVRT (Link). And that webpage takes me to this page for an outfit called Stay Sane Communications (Link) (registration at Go Daddy, of course), which is – you guessed it – a web development house based in Vancouver B.C. (and probably now at the location on Nelson Street). From there I get some names that are almost certainly behind IAVRT. The first is Simmons (Link). From her bio:

    After graduating from Concordia University, Montreal in 1991 Simmons moved to the west coast and began working as a technologist.

    When Simmons is not working on technology projects, Susan can be found kayaking to scenic islands within British Columbia’s coastal waterways.

    The other is Pederson (Link). From his bio:

    Pedersen is well established as an industry innovator and skilled project planner in Canada and Argentina. His roots are in traditional graphic design, desktop publishing, and print.

    He participated in the development of one of the first Flash based sites on the Internet and developed the first 3D photo web sites using Quick Time VR and VRML technologies.

    Eiler has taught as…

    Now the picture starts to clear a bit.

    This appears to be a two-person operation, Susan Simmons and Eiler Pederson, with roots in multimedia and some ties to vr. And while their bios aren’t bad, they’re a long way from what I’d want to be reading before I started sending money for anything connected to IAVRT.

    The idea has some merit, but until I see a name with a real reputation attached to this operation, I’ll give it little more credence than the hardluck-story-pot-of-gold emails I get from Africa.

    via 3pointD

    {Update 1: I see C|Net hasn’t learned much from the recent Second Life media-hype fiasco. Writer Stephen Shankland has posted a glowing story about IAVRT with the bold headline “Virtual reality to get its own network” (Link) but doesn’t appear to me to have any more information than what’s provided on that website. Too funny.}

    {Update 2: To make it easier to see the link between Stay Sane and IAVRT, here are the links of interest:

    http://www.iavrt.com {Note 16Apr2008: this now goes to inappropriate adult content}
    http://www.iavrt.org
    http://www.iabit.com
    http://www.iabit.org
    http://www.iabit.org/press

    The first four all have the same IAVRT homepage and the last one leads you to Stay Sane’s information.}

    {Update 3: I’ve been corresponding with C|Net on this and was just informed that they reached an individual who is lending his – and someone else’s – name to this effort. I don’t recall having heard of the person to whom they spoke, so at this stage I’ll remain skeptical. At the very least, as I told C|Net, the manner in which this is being handled is lacking in clarity. This may not be a scam as I suspected, but I’ll keep my skeptic’s hat on for now. It still looks to me like they’re raising money for something that’s incredibly risky and not beyond criticism.}

    {Update 4: It appears that the C|Net article has been updated. They really should tag it with “update” or do something to alert people to that fact. Anyway, here’s some additional info from that article:

    “The first-generation network is strictly an R&D network and will function as a sort of sandbox for virtual reality and gaming innovators around the world to develop new applications for a second generation network,” IAVRT co-founder Chistopher Scully said in an e-mail. No services yet are signed up to use the network, he added.


    Scully didn’t name any of the organization’s backers or members in his e-mail, but said Mychilo Cline, author of a virtual reality book, is on the group’s advisory board.


    However, some bloggers aren’t convinced the Neuronet is real. One is 3D designer Sven Johnson, who opined on his blog Thursday, “I’m almost certain this is a scam.” He was alarmed by the lack of identified IAVRT backers and the possibility that Neuronet is a “get-rich-quick scheme” funded by domain name sales.

    Scully denied that position: “I can assure you the network is not a scam. Funds raised from the sale of network domain names will offset the considerable costs associated with the creation of the network.”

    A shame they didn’t properly identify me; real product development and virtual development – including things such as experience design, market research and branding – go a bit further than “3D designer”, which is just one of the things I do. Oh well.

    Okay, so who exactly is Christopher Scully and why should I, or anyone, trust him? It’s been a while since I’ve read any books on virtual reality, so his name isn’t ringing any bells for me.

    Regardless, if nothing else, the manner in which this has been handled so far would give me serious pause as to how they would handle things in the future. As someone with a stake in the future of virtual worlds, I’d be happy to be wrong.}

    {Update 5: I just took a quick look at Slashdot to read some of the comments about IAVRT (Link). Some funny stuff over there.}

    {Update 6: Caught a comment over on Slashdot where ortholattice made an interesting discovery: “iabit” stands for (get this) – International Association of Brain Interface Technologies. From an earlier press release by IABIT (Link):

    Vancouver, Canada – The International Association of Brain Interface Technologies (IABIT) is pleased to announce a US$10 million fund for the study and advancement of Brain Interface (BI) technology. The fund will issue one US$500,000 grant and two US$250,000 grants each year for ten years beginning in 2007.

    Brain Interface refers collectively to the disciplines known as Brain Machine Interface (BMI), Brain Computer Interface (BCI), Direct Brain Interface (DBI), and Adaptive Brain Interface (ABI). BI is technology through which computers interface directly with the brain. In the field of medicine, the technology being developed promises miraculous advances that will someday enable persons with spinal cord injuries to regain mobility, blind persons to regain vision and deaf persons to regain the ability to hear. While medical applications are at the forefront of BI research, other commercial applications abound. Over the next decade, BMI technology is expected to revolutionize the video gaming, film & television, medical, and defense industries to name a few.

    This just keeps getting better and better.}

    {Update 7: This will probably be the last, or next-to-last, blog post update. For anyone finding this interesting, alarming, amusing, or any/all of the above, check the comments (which I hope stay spam-free for a bit). There’s plenty of new information popping up in them, especially in regards to someone named Nigel Malkin (thanks to “romem”). Best to just read those.}

    {Update 8: I was beginning to tire of this thing (hence my last update) but instead it appears it’s re-energized by a threatening email coming from someone claiming to be Christopher Scully. You can read that on my follow-up post – reLink}

    {Update 9: Just as an aside, Engadget has picked up on this story. That alone isn’t especially worth noting here; however, the number of people copying the article, shoving it onto spamblogs and tracking back to this post in order to get some ad revenue is … depressing. What a bunch of lowlife’s to rip off someone else in this manner.

    The piece written by Donald Melanson didn’t track back here, so I took the first rip-off and turned it into one. The rest will be checked and deleted. And I’m especially glad to see that Melanson got it right:

    The reBang weblog in particular has been doing lots of digging into the legitimacy of the group, and while not turning up anything conclusive, it has led to a wide range of speculation, even including remote possilibility that it’s all an elaborate Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

    Worth reading in its entirely, so head over to Engadget (Link).

    {Update 10: I never expected this would take off. If I had, I’d have posted a simple list of updateable links. Oh well. In any event, Ars Technica has picked this one up (Link). I enjoy that site and their readers’ comments, so you might want to peek in yourself.}

    {Update 11: Broadband Reports has a short blurb on this story, “The Virtual Reality Network That’s Virtual” (Link). Hey, at least my post title is a question. These guys must want to get sued.}

    {Update 12: Someone whom I suspect is Susan Simmons from Stay Sane Communications has posted a comment that might be of interest. Or not.}

    77 thoughts on “Is Neuronet A Scam? {Update 12}

    1. I was just looking at that locationscout360 and I’d be willing to bet that was created by the same person behind the Stay Sane website.

      {edit – sure enough. They’re on the client list.}

    2. @eedlee – thanks for the links.

      That post sounds more like what I was hoping I’d find after I first read about IAVRT, but instead only found stuff that seemed bewilderingly uncritical.

    3. something interesting i didnt understand about this story was how to get the coverage.

      their PR was wrote at https://prndirect.prnewswire.com/

      Which automatically spreads it .. “via the wire” – a few examples :

      http://www.wistv.com/Global/story.asp?S=5866409
      http://www.wect.com/Global/story.asp?S=5866409
      http://calibre.mworld.com/m/m.w?lp=GetStory&id=234756251
      http://ca.sys-con.com/read/318108.htm
      http://ww3.komotv.com/Global/story.asp?S=5866409

      http://prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=SPIPDT.story&STORY=/www/story/12-28-2006/0004497373&EDATE=THU+Dec+28+2006,+01:00+PM

      Guess its how cnet came accross the info, but never forget the disclamer …

      Disclaimer: Information contained on this page is provided by companies featured through PR Newswire. PR Newswire, WorldNow and this Station cannot confirm the accuracy of this information and make no warranties or representations in connection therewith.

    4. Yep. Newswire is getting increasing attention as a simple, effective way to put out pretty much any PR message you want. More and more I see people making note of it.

    5. Nigel Malkin is a busy person – http://www.zoominfo.com/people/Malkin_Nigel_278555233.aspx

      All of those quotes? I suspect they’re all coming from Stay Sane-created websites. And once again, we get a link back:

      The opportunity to try the Atkins Diet for one week (which translated to three meals a day delivered to my door) came to me from Nigel Malkin, founder and president of The Specialty Gourmet, based out of Lions Gate Studios.

      Here’s the Lions Gate Studio website: http://www.lionsgatestudios.com/index_flash.html

      Doesn’t it strike any of these people that it’s odd The Specialty Gourmet is based out of a film studio which could be too-easily confused with Lion’s Gate Films, which has a different address for their Vancouver facility… and which, of course, they link to on their opening page as if they’re related(!):

      Located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada,
      Lions Gate Studios combines state of the art studio
      facilities with exceptional customer service.

      Come Discover why you’ll want to shoot your next
      production at Lions Gate Studios.

      Visit Lions Gate Films.

      And get this, they’re using the same copyright tag at the bottom of the page that Lion’s Gate Films uses; including font.

      I wonder if any part of that Lions Gate Studios site is real or just fiction. Anyone from Vancouver around and able to just drive by the location to see if it *looks* like what they’re showing? Google maps isn’t good enough. Here’s the address:

      555 Brooksbank Avenue,
      North Vancouver BC

    6. I certainly agree with others that this “smells” like a scam. But if this is a scam, then what are other projects aiming to unify the “3D Web” with a proprietary platform centrally-owned by a single entity? Since Second Life is the subject of so much negative attention lately, let’s use them as an example. Are they really so different than IAVRT?

      Second Life claims to provide a platform that can grow to handle the demands of the metaverse, yet their servers can handle only a few active users at a time. Second Life has at most tens of thousands of users online at any point in time, about the same number of users handled by a single (2D) web server. Many websites use hundreds of these servers to handle their traffic demands! That means for Second Life to handle load comparable with a single 2D website (or a single island in their model), they would need to be several hundred times larger, and this doesn’t even begin to address the additional demands required for exchanging 3D assets.

      Second Life could never possibly scale to meet the demands of a real metaverse. Yet they continue to attract big companies using inflated numbers and over-hyped potential (and because frankly, with all its problems, Second Life is still the best thing available). But enough about Second Life. The same things can be said of pretty much any 3D web platform company trying to lock-in customers to their proprietary systems. Despite that IAVRT is a “not-for-profit” organization, and the Neuronet’s lack of technical feasibility (among other things) does make it “smell” like a scam, I would be inclined to group IAVRT into this camp.

      One thing I do agree with the IAVRT on is that there is a need to establish open protocols to build a shared platform for the 3D web. However, I can think of no technical reason this cannot or should not take the form of an extension to the existing Internet. There is no need for a new physical network and no need for a new registry authority. There may be an argument to be made for an organization to rally these efforts. However, I’m more inclined support an extension from an existing reputable organization like the Web3D Consortium.

      Nowadays, rallying also does not necessarily require money. It can be performed using just a community portal website. I’ve recently assembled a portal just for this purpose at web3d.net and I’d like to invite anyone interested to come participate. And don’t worry, there are no membership fees involved <g>.

    7. @Michael – I’d say the difference between something like Second Life and IAVRT is pretty simple: there’s a real person behind LL/SL irrespective of the technology. I don’t know that there are any “real” people behind IAVRT. For all I know, every name we’ve unearthed is entirely fictional. As some others have said, it could be an ARG.

      Anyway, best of luck with your site. I’ll have to stop by.

    8. True, and Second Life has something real, working today. To be clear, I have a great deal of respect both for the people at Second Life and what they have accomplished. It is an excellent example of things to come, and thereby also an easy scapegoat. My intent was mainly to illustrate certain similarities between IAVRT and other, arguably more reputable, projects aiming to create a ubiquitous 3D web platform. Taking all the evidence into account, there is no doubt that Neuronet is likely a scam. I certainly would not put money into it. But rather than having an intent to defraud people, this could also be a group of perhaps naive individuals with grand ambitions.

    9. @Michael who said: “this could also be a group of perhaps naive individuals with grand ambitions.

      I was thinking the same thing earlier. I’m not considering that to be very likely at this point.

    10. csven,

      Thanks for the expansion on “international” not-for-profits. Following your hint, I also found lots of groups designating themselves as such. What it actually means, as you point out, isn’t always clear. I guess sometimes it means an organization that receives money from multiple countries, while at other times it means an organization that is based in one country but works internationally. With anything involving the internet, though, I don’t see how an organization could keep from being international in this second sense.

    11. Agree. The minute it’s an internet-based business it does seem to be “international” by default.

    12. Mmm, looks like they may have meant to deploy this earlier… or just made a typo. Either way, I found something under their “Domain Names” section that’s pretty strong evidence of them being unprofessional, in my opinion:

      “The list of Premium Names will be made available by January 31, 2006.”

      I think that date already passed by… meh, I thought it was interesting.

    13. Pingback: Engadget-"Group promises dedicated VR "Neuronet," skepticism ensues"

    14. Here’s the address GoogleMapped:
      http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=280+Nelson+St.,++Vancouver,+BC,+V6B+2E2&ie=UTF8&z=18&ll=49.276061,-123.11864&spn=0.002418,0.006545&t=h&om=1

      It’s certainly in downtown, but looks more like a residential-type section. Maybe. Any Vancouverites that can verify?

      With the Lion’s Gate Film connection, I wonder if this is some sort of viral marketing for a movie, a la Blair Witch or the Lacuna website for The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

    15. Yep. Saw it. At first I thought it was a parking lot until I looked at the shadows. The jagged building looks residential maybe. The big flat thing looks converted to me.

      Only it’s not necessarily a legit connection. Lion’s Gate Films is not afaik Lions Gate Studios. It appears to me to be a deliberate attempt to confuse the two for the wrong reasons.

    16. Microsoft successfully sued a Canadian “Mike Roe” who had “mikeroesoft.com” (and even had some basic games up) on that same basis. They settled out of court for an X-Box and a trip to Microsoft HQ + a personal tour. I’d imagine Lion’s Gate Films could easily sue for the same reason.

      Anyway, I did the easiest web-site hack, and found another tidbit. The images are kept, of course, in an /image directory. So type in:
      http://www.iabit.org/images/
      And you’ll find you can view them as a directory.

      I found some of them were sample images, indicating by their watermark that they were obtained at http://www.istockphoto.com, most likely for free (as it’s a royalty free site). So these *web innovators* can’t even design their own website.

      This is clearly [“potentially”; see comment below -csven] a “give us some money and we’ll find people to do the work for us” scam. That’s why they [appear to – csven] have the “grants” section, and they could argue that if they got money, gave it to grants people, and took money for their “administrative” costs, that they were legit.

      This is so retarded it’s not even making me chuckle.

    17. For the record Stay Sane Communications and its owners Susan Simmons and Eiler Pedersen are not the International Association of Virtual Reality Technologies (IAVRT).

      In the future, kindly make contact with the people you are making comment about and confirm information rather than post speculative and as csven points out on VR GEEK BLOG about the information posted on this (his) blog, comments that are “especially damning.”

      Stay Sane Communications’ email and telephone number have always been available on our website to those of you making the posts. We encourage you to contact us directly in order to check facts.

      A little courtesy goes a long way.

    18. @Hiro – the istockphoto connection was already made and to be honest, I don’t consider it an issue. Real companies use those services. And real companies even use recycled code. What alarms me most is the language on their site – the “will” this and “will” that which are statements of future certainty but which then are followed by the big disclaimer. I personally consider that very misleading and manipulative. Thus, under the circumstances – including all the things we’ve come across so far – those words stick out like a sore thumb to me and I can’t help but suspect this is a scam. It’s not “clearly” anything; but it’s sufficiently opaque to warrant serious scrutiny imo.

    19. @Susan – I’m glad you’ve stopped in. Why not illuminate this issue a bit.

      For the record Stay Sane Communications and its owners Susan Simmons and Eiler Pedersen are not the International Association of Virtual Reality Technologies (IAVRT).

      For the record, this comment says you “are not” something, but doesn’t say “you are not part” of something. I can imagine you being in a partnership with someone, so instead of making that statement, how about explaining your relationship in more definitive terms.

      In the future, kindly make contact with the people you are making comment about and confirm information rather than post speculative

      I can’t speak for people who’s comments I’ve refuted (effectively defending you on those occasions), but as to why I didn’t call: I don’t believe it’s my responsibility to do what neither you, your client (IAVRT?) nor media companies like C|Net bothered to do: gather and disseminate sufficient information for people like me – the one’s to whom this service is supposedly selling – to make informed decisions about IAVRT.

      and as csven points out on VR GEEK BLOG about the information posted on this (his) blog, comments that are “especially damning.”

      “Damning” is not “illegal”. Some people have, I’ll agree made overreaching declarative statements (just like on the IAVRT website), but I don’t recall any of those as being the “damning” ones.

      Stay Sane Communications’ email and telephone number have always been available on our website to those of you making the posts. We encourage you to contact us directly in order to check facts.

      While true, may I both refer you to my earlier comment regarding responsibilities going where they belong and also ask if you’ve posted this same outreach over on Slashdot? I’ll have to check. They’ve certainly not been restrained in their comments and I don’t recall anyone reining them in as I’ve done here.

      A little courtesy goes a long way.

      If courtesy is what you and your clients are all about, then I assume I was correct in believing that the email threat I received came from an imposter. ;)

    20. @Baba – I was thinking last night about Pederson and his link to CathayOnline. I bet that’s worth some inquiry. On the one hand, he might have been legitimately involved in the first two weeks of the company when it first formed (maybe called “Via Technology” at the time) and then left. Or, and this got me really thinking, he *might* have copied a newswire, modified it and then resubmitted it somehow (I don’t know how that thing works, tbh). Imagine sneaking in a resume-building qualification like that. If done quickly enough, it’d escape the notice of the company originating the press release.

      By the way, check comments on the other Neuronet post here. Cline is a curious one too. Looks to me like he or someone he knows snuck him into Wikipedia.

    21. This post is now collecting nothing but spam. Time to shut it down. Feel free to post (for the time being at least) on the Scully(?) response thread – reLink.

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