Ladies and gentlemen, it appears we have a winner of the MediaShift Your Blog Here Contest. I was a bit flustered trying to figure out the mystery behind the Lonelygirl15 series of videos on YouTube, so I started a contest to see who could solve this mystery — and to take my pain away.

Luckily, it didn’t take long before word starting spreading that Lonelygirl15 was not a home-schooled 16-year-old girl named Bree but instead was an actress named Jessica Rose, who recently moved from New Zealand to Burbank, Calif.

The major credit for this find goes to one Matt Foremski, the 18-year-old son of Silicon Valley Watcher blogger Tom Foremski, a former Financial Times journalist. Matt set up a special website, LG15.com, to show the world his findings, and his dad Tom helped expose his son’s work on Silicon Valley Watcher.

I’ll turn over this blog post now to Matt Foremski, who will explain how he cracked the case:

I was surfing the article on Lonelygirl15 on TMZ.com when I came across a comment that linked to a private MySpace page that was allegedly that of the actress who plays Lonelygirl15. As the profile was set to
“private,” there was no real info one could glean from the page. However, when I queried Google for that particular MySpace user name, “jeessss426,” I found a Google cache from the page a few months ago when it was still public.

A lot of the details of the girl’s background clicked for me: She was an actress from a small city in New Zealand who had moved to Burbank recently to act. The name on the profile was “Jessica Rose.” When next I happened to query Google image search for “Jessica Rose New Zealand” I was instantly rewarded with two cached thumbnail photos of Lonelygirl15, a.k.a. Jessica Rose, from a New Zealand talent agency that had since removed the full size versions. A later search on Yahoo on “jeessss426” also turned up a whole load of pictures from her probably forgotten ImageShack account.

Foremski told me his friend Cody Smith then put together a video for YouTube= explaining the Jessica Rose connection that Foremski had made. As for the younger Foremski’s background:

I’m eighteen and live in San Francisco. Presently, I’m deferring a semester of college to play around on the Internet. My dad spurred my interest in the idea of blogging and later vlogging; I like the community aspect of it all and the great interactions they engender. Lonelygirl intrigued me from the beginning; the production quality was so good and I knew she’d be a hit. So, I registered the domain, Lg15.com, in early July and let it sit, having just gotten around to building out a small page on Friday.

Not a bad way to “play around” for a semester, solving the Lonelygirl15 mystery in one fell swoop! Not long after Foremski started publicizing his find online, another YouTube user added his own sleuthing to find more pictures of Jessica Rose. Here’s the story from Myles, who runs FreeJavaChat:

I did find the pics but it was after [Foremski] posted a link to his site in chat, which showed a link to the cache of what he thought might be her MySpace page. All I did then was search all the comments on a lot of her friend’s pages and eventually found some pics she had posted that were no longer there but led to her Photobucket account. I went to the account and was finally able to get into her NYFA folder where the pics were (pics which have since been deleted). I think the guy from LG15.com [Foremski] deserves the credit and I’m sure he would be thrilled…

Indeed. Many thanks to everyone for playing, and if you dig up even more details on the gang behind Lonelygirl15, please add your intelligence to the comments section below, and I’ll update this post.

UPDATE: Tom Foremski has updated the inside story of his son’s scoop on Silicon Valley Watcher. It’s interesting to see how it played out, from people who tried to claim the scoop for themselves to others who still don’t believe in the Jessica Rose connection.

The elder Foremski makes a great point in the comments of his blog post about assigning credit (which goes around to a lot of people) and the great way citizen media and pro media worked together to crack the case:

LG15’s identity would have been found out very soon, there were many people who would have got to it, coming at it in different ways. We were lucky to connect the dots first and get it out there. There are many that deserve credit for their online sleuthing and helping in the outing of LG15, especially those that traced Bree’s email address to an IP address owned by the Creative Arts Agency. That was the key fact that knocked the door down…

Also, this story is not over yet, there is still more work to be done and the online communities will get it done. What is is so great about this LG15 saga, is the cooperative effort to break out and make public information that others tried to keep secret. This saga is a great example of mainstream and citizen media working together, that’s the future of journalism. Mainstream media and blogger media are complementary forces, and all are part of the larger mediasphere.

UPDATE 2: The jig is up completely as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times ran in-depth reports on the folks behind the cameras who tried in vain to keep their identities a secret. A nice line from the NY Times report:

The story of how Mr. Flinders, Mr. Beckett [the creators] and Ms. Rose were discovered in spite of their efforts to hide, and prolong the mystery, sheds light on the nature of online wiki-style investigations and manhunts.

Some interesting points in the LA Times article include that the trio of filmmakers used a shoestring budget to make the series, “Two desk lamps, one broken, an open window and a $130 camera.” The creators said that they changed the storyline based on comments from fans on message boards, but were unprepared for the investigative strength of fans who were seeking their identities.

“Our hats are off to the really impressive investigators,” LG15 co-creator Greg Goodfried told the LA Times. “We really didn’t know what to do.”

According to Goodfried, Jessica Rose, the actress who played Lonelygirl15, was out in the open in Los Angeles and was never found out in public. “There is no place better to hide then right in the middle of L.A.,” Goodfried said. “Everyone is so focused on themselves that I guess they don’t even notice.” Or maybe the people focused on their computers and YouTube don’t always see what’s going on out in the real world?

In the end, I seriously doubt as many people will be interested in the continuing story now that the mystery has been solved about the creators and actress. But I bet a million look-alikes will try to garner similar attention on YouTube and elsewhere.