Saturday, August 20, 2011

M2E Digital Exposed



In which the continuing escapades of a shameless, self-promoting swindler are laid bare.

It has been five fruitless years since Murali K. Thalluri's cinema debut. It now seems clear that his film-making career has stalled. With his film projects continuing to be grounded in development hell, Thalluri has sought new means of revenue for himself and his production company, M2 Entertainment (M2E).

Thalluri's first attempt to diversify was in 2010, with a “film-financing” service called M2E Pictures. This development was first pointed out to us by one of our sharp-eyed readers, however at the time, we at Energiser Bunny felt that any commentary by us would be superfluous, the main thrust of the service already reading like some bad joke. However, for completeness, here is our take:

M2E Pictures, in brief

For the princely sum of $795, somebody at M2E will read your screenplay and write 7-10 pages about it. Is this person in any way experienced or qualified to judge screenplays and evaluate them proficiently? Who knows? If the stars align, and the M2E minion likes your screenplay, it may then be subjected to a completely opaque and unaccountable process called "does MKT like it?" If your screenplay manages to mount that hurdle, it may then be submitted to another completely opaque and unaccountable process called " does the M2E Board like it?" Even if the M2E Board does approve, do realise that M2E is having enough difficulty launching its own film projects - let alone yours!

But, either way, thanks for your $795, here's some script advice of questionable value. Badum-tish!

Thalluri later confessed he had received "feedback" (read: complaints) from writers who had balked at the price. In response, M2E offered a budget option, minus commentary, for a mere $50.

Oddly enough, the exorbitant $795 option still remains!

Investigating M2E Digital

But we digress. Earlier this year, a reader informed us of another dubious attempt by Thalluri to raise revenue: a concern called M2E Digital. After a bit of digging, it became clear that this particular enterprise is more than enough to warrant our signature style of critique.

We stress we have nothing against (and, in fact, support) entrepreneurship if it is assiduous and honest. If Thalluri & Co. were to operate in such a manner, we would have no cause for contention, and would wish a legitimate business well.

However, since, after careful analysis, this does not appear to be the case, we have an obligation to publish our findings.

To introduce M2E Digital in its own words:

M2E DIGITAL is a multifaceted digital media and software development company founded by Murali K. Thalluri and Solomon Paul. The digital media arm of M2E Digital is a service based company that specializes in:

* Website Design & Development
* App Design and Development
* Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
* Domain & Web Hosting
* E-Mail Solutions

The software development arm of M2E Digital is focussed on building great apps across mobile devices, tablets, desktop computers and gaming consoles.

And:

At M2E Digital we have a team of over twenty highly specialized technicians, programmers, designers and developers based between Australia and Los Angeles. This allows us to ensure that we are bringing the highest level of quality to any projects we choose work on and bring your vision to fruition.

For a technology startup, there is striking disparity in the experience and focus between the management and the development team.

Take M2E Digital's CEO Murali K. Thalluri, whose sole technical credential, according to his biography, is that "he built his first computer at 8 years old" (an all-in-one Mac Classic, perhaps?).

The rest of his bio, by far the longest listed, is otherwise filled with irrelevant information. It even parrots the falsehood that Thalluri was "[at 22] the youngest director to ever get into Official Selection at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival".

For the record, that distinction actually goes to Samira Makmalbaf, who was 18 when her film The Apple screened at Cannes in 1998, and 20 when her Jury-Prize winning second film Blackboards screened in 2000. Deal with it, Thalluri.

In a similar fashion, M2E Digital's other two managing staff, Solomon Paul and Sam Kennedy, are also evidently preoccupied with film-making. Paul is apparently slated to direct a short film for M2E later this year. He also blogs about learning photography. Kennedy is apparently developing a screenplay with Thalluri and blogs about screen-writing. Only Paul has some alleged experience making websites for "architectural modelling and film companies" (which ones, we aren’t told). But not, conspicuously, for actual web development firms.

[Editor's note: Thalluri received an advance copy of this entry in early August 2011, and was invited to respond to any points he considered incorrect and in need of amending. No reply. However the incriminating page mentioned below was swiftly yanked without explanation or apology. A copy can still be viewed here.

Please note that despite being caught, let's face it, quite red-handed, M2E Digital still has the chutzpah to continue to say it's a company with over 20 employees; M2E Pictures still wants to pretend that Thalluri was the youngest director to ever enter official selection at the Cannes film festival.]


(Click to enlarge)

Contrast this with the crack team of developers M2E Digital lists in its employ: currently thirteen-strong, based between Australia and Los Angeles, many of them seasoned professionals with up to 18 years experience, with great expertise in numerous programming languages. While tech startups typically comprise of a small group of savvy, ambitious youths hoping to expand, here we have a medium-sized company filled with top-notch coders spontaneously assembling out of nowhere. One must wonder how Thalluri and his flunkies, a pair of wannabe film-makers, could lure a team of senior developers to work for them.

Adding to the mystery, M2E Digital's developer bios are very light on details. Sure, we have a glowing description of their skills and the regular platitudes about how well they think outside the box. Yet we don't have any past projects they've worked on, or even their surnames. Their profile pictures aren't even real photos, but caricatures ripped off from South Park!

And, just to pique our suspicions further, consider the M2E Digital blog, which copies tech articles from other sites and tacks on a brief comment called "the M2E Digital take". Despite the sizable pool of tech experience at their disposal, the generally prosaic commentary reads as though the author is digitally naïve rather than a digital native, certainly not a geek. Given the blog's fierce Apple bias, we'd tip Thalluri as the sole author, although contributions by Paul and Kennedy are conceivable.

With things not adding up, we put the M2E Digital's app team bios under the microscope. The result was jaw-dropping.

We discovered many of the M2E Digital bios are in fact fakes, largely copied verbatim from other developers, with minimal rewording to conceal the fact.

Identical sentence fragments are in bold:


"Leslie", M2E Digital

LESLIE is a 15 year veteran when it comes to desktop and mobile software architecture and development. Through his long career, he has served clients in a variety of different fields from transport, healthcare, e-commerce and telecommunications. Leslie's previous work includes projects on enhanced voicemail systems and video applications, along with developing data delivery systems for clinical trials

Compare with Rob Bonner, Director of Mobile Development, Cronk Software, USA

Over 25 years in desktop and mobile software architecture and development serving clients in aviation, healthcare, e-commerce and telecommunications

Lead development teams in creation of TTY enhanced voicemail systems and ISDN-based video applications; architected and developed data delivery systems for clinical trials.

Aviation is, of course, a form of transportation.


"Charles", M2E Digital

CHARLES has a Bachelor Degree in Information Technology and is a software development specialist with over 7 years experience in web development technologies. Charles' primary strengths lie in Image Processing / Recognition algorithm development, software development process and system architecture. He is experienced in the following programs and languages; C++, Objective-C, OpenGL, OpneCV, boostC++, PHP, mySQL, JavaScript, jQuery, ActionScript, VisualStudio,XCode, iOS/Android/WebOS/Blackberry & WP7 SDK's, Dreamweaber, Flash & Photoshop."

Naoya Ruike, CellCity, Singapore

"A software development specialist with over 5 year's commerce experience in the electric device company and Web development. Especially, have strengths in Image Processing / Recognition algorithm development, software development process and system architecture. As a result, contributed to a new product and rapid development.

Specialties

C++, Objective-C, OpenGL, OpneCV, boostC++

PHP, mySQL, JavaScript, jQuery, ActionScript

VisualStudio,XCode, Dreamweaber, Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator

Quartus2, Rhapsody, AutoBox, Matlab/Simulink"

Naoya Ruike's Education

...

Bachelor, Information Technology

1998 – 2002

Note the identical misspellings of "Dreamweaver", "Boost C++", "OpenCV" and "MySQL"; the same omitted space between the comma and "XCode". A sloppy copy and paste job by people who quite likely don't fully understand what they're copying. Tacking on Android development without adding experience in Java? Puh-lease.


"Laurel", M2E Digital

LAUREL has worked as a freelance iPhone, iPad and iOS consultant before joining the M2E Digital team. With over 12 years experience in developing applications for both web, desktop and mobile platforms, Laurel has serviced clients from all over world. She is an integral part of M2E's process, overseeing quality ocntrol of all projects the company is involved with.

Nick Kuh, Osmosis Apps, UK

I'm a Freelance iPhone, iPad, iOS Consultant and Developer based in Brighton, UK with an 12 years experience developing applications for web, desktop and mobile. I freelance directly for UK and US clients such as the BBC, ESPN, Channel 4, Pearson and numerous others.

Working for UK and US clients surely qualifies as "clients from all over the world", no? And "overseeing quality ocntrol" [sic]? Priceless.


"Yograj", M2E Digital

"Yograj is another former freelance developer and consultant who after working for many years in the industry joined the M2E Digital family. Yograj's career began in the mid-90's, in the early days of the internet when things were much simpler. As things began to change and evolve Yograj made a point stay at the head of the pack. In recent years Yograj as been involved with a number of larger projects. His expertise in programming include Apple's XCode compiler iPhone, Mac, Games, iPhone SDK, OpenGL, CGDirectDisplay, cinematic, sprite kernel extensions (drivers) and Objective C (Cocoa)."

Vishnu B, Freelance Programmer and Developer based in Bangalore, India:

"Expert: Apple's XCode compiler iPhone, Mac, Games, iPhone SDK, OpenGL, CGDirectDisplay, cinematic, sprite kernel extensions (drivers) Objective C (Cocoa)"

Cute backstory there. Notice the inclusion of meaningless terms like like "cinematic" and "sprite kernel extensions" in both, another example of very sloppy copy and pasting. Also, Vishnu charges $33/hour for his services, M2E Digital charges $95/hour.


"Nienke", M2E Digital

NIENKE has worked extensively throughout Europe where she's served as a software architect and engineer on a variety of projects in many different industries from banking, to aerospace to transport. Despite her love for developing apps for the iPhone, Nienke is still a big believer in Open Source as she has been involved with a variety of different OSS projects.

Peter Friese, head of mobile development at Itemis, Germany

As a software engineer and software architect, Peter has worked on a variety of industry projects in different domains such as banking, aerospace and transport. Despite developing apps for the "walled garden" (aka iPhone), Peter is an Open Source enthusiast and has been a committer on various OSS projects, including APPlause, Xtext, Eclipse Modeling, openArchitectureWare, FindBugs and AndroMDA.


"Jennifer", M2E Digital

JENNIFER has spent the past 6 years leading development teams as well as creating web-based systems and applications. The majority of Jennifer's programming experience lies in Java and Objective-C. Prior to joining M2E, Jennifer worked as a Systems & Software Engineer where she was involved with designing portal architectures and developing JEE web applications.

Jeff Kunkle, CTO of Near Infinity, USA

He has spent the past ten years leading Agile-focused development teams and creating web-based systems and applications. The majority of his programming experience lies in Java/JEE, Groovy/Grails, and Ruby/Rails, with Objective-C and iPhone development being a personal spare-time learning pursuit.

Prior to joining Near Infinity, Jeff worked for Lockheed Martin and held several Systems and Software Engineering positions during his participation in the Engineering Leadership Development Program. Much of his time spent at Lockheed involved designing portal architectures and developing JEE web applications.


"Jorge", M2E Digital

JORGE is a relative new comer to the field with two years of experience, however the quality of his work using technologies like PHP, AJAX & Jquery would not suggest this. Jorge also specializes in web application architecture and relational database design. He also has a sound understanding, and a strong ability to implement web technologies such as HTML, HTML5, Javascript, PHP, JSP and Servlet. He can also program in PHP, C, C++ & Java.

PHP, PHP, PHP. While we haven't been able to find a source for this one, with all these mentions of PHP, perhaps this is the result of several bios mixed together.

Thalluri appears to be up to his old tricks once again, plagiarism and fabrication of individuals and credentials in order to dishonestly promote his commercial enterprises.

The members of M2E Digital's dev team do not have the credentials they advertise (isn't that unlawful?).


In fact, as best we can tell, these people don't exist at all. M2E Digital's social networks are missing people with rare names like Laurel, Nienke, Jorge, Percy and Yograj, and we cannot find any external sources showing people with these names having any affiliation with M2E Digital.

Nonetheless, the company has a portfolio of websites, a few announced mobile projects, and offers a range of other services. So what's going on here?

Here is a clue: buried in M2E Digital's guide to website development and design process is this strange note, obviously left in by accident.

Show four different versions of the M2E Digital site. We'll need to get these of Josh, just so we can show the evolution of our site. Cool?

There is no "Josh" listed as an employee of M2E Digital. It seems extremely odd that a web development company would have to get an outsider to develop graphics illustrating the evolution of its own site. Especially one the size M2E Digital claims to be, yet that's where evidence points.

We believe that M2E Digital may be in essence a shell corporation. By this we mean that it doesn't have any significant assets or salaried employees of its own. Instead, it acts as a middle man, hiring other companies or independent contractors to do its work for it. This is inefficient for the end customer, who has to pay both for the service - and M2E Digital's cut.

For further evidence of this, let's break down M2E Digital’s other services.

Domains and web hosting

M2E Digital claims that it:

... offers very competitive hosting packages. ... We guarantee 99.99% uptime on our dedicated hosting servers.

Actually, it doesn't seem to own any servers. M2E Digital is on Lizzy Hosting, and its hosting plans are identical to Lizzy's - save for the fact that M2E Digital charges approximately twice as much as Lizzy. M2E Digital is simply a Lizzy hosting reseller. Since Lizzy already has comprehensive support, what value is M2E Digital adding that justifies doubling the price?

Lizzy Hosting doesn't appear to make any guarantees of 99.99% uptime, and at least
one site reports its actual uptime is slightly below that. Surely M2E Digital shouldn't be offering guarantees about hardware that it doesn't have physical access to?

Additionally, M2E Digital will let you optionally register a domain for $40 per year. But a standard .com domain can be had for less than $10, even a .au domain can be had for less than $20. Rip off!

Email Solutions

M2E Digital bewilderingly offers six different email services, but it apparently only manages one of them directly, if that.

M2E Digital will sell you ten free Gmail accounts for $250(!) or a Google Business account for 60% markup. These are, naturally, managed by Google.

M2E Digital also sells three expensive managed Microsoft Exchange servers, and another Microsoft Exchange server called the "M2E Solution".

On the first feature comparison table, the M2E Solution is labelled as the "cheapest", with fewer features to reflect that. But on the pricing table, it's revealed to be the most expensive per year, even after inflating the prices of the other services. Huh?

Although the most expensive, the M2E Solution doesn't have phone support like the other three Exchange server packages. We suspect the reason for this is because those Exchange packages are run by another firm (whose services M2E Digital resells). M2E Digital doesn't want to run phone support so it doesn't offer it on the M2E Solution.

Further evidence that M2E Digital probably don't actually run its own mail servers: its own corporate mail system is run by Google. If M2E Digital refuses to use its own email service, who should? Ever heard of eating your own dog food?

Search Engine Optimisation

According to the M2E Digital website, $999 will get you 300 hours worth of SEO work per month. Assuming this is true, that works out to a mere $3.33 per hour.

M2E Digital touts itself as having "a team ... based between Australia and Los Angeles". Its meta keywords include both "Adelaide" and "Australia". The management staff, Thalluri, Paul and Kennedy, are all listed as being Adelaide based – so we are lead to think this is an Australian-American company.

The minimum wage in Australia is AUD$15.51 per hour.

The minimum wage in California is USD$8.00 per hour.

How then, does this company offer a service that costs AUD$3.33 per hour?

Answer: Off-shoring, probably to India.

There is a bunch of Indian firms that offer SEO services that are nigh on identical to M2E Digital's offerings. Exact same table of features, exact same price tiers, everything. Except the Indian firms tend to be even cheaper, presumably because they don't have M2E Digital taking a cut as a middleman.

While we're on the subject, let's take a closer look M2E Digital's use of SEO.

An M2E Digital blog post states:

A lot of people under estimate [sic] the value of search engine optimisation. We have seen website hits for clients go from hundreds into the thousands as a direct result of a strong Search Engine Optimisation campaign.

Just who are these clients? None of the listed portfolio websites show much evidence of using M2E Digital's SEO services and this includes M2E Digital itself!

These sites are missing basic features, such as:

  1. meta keywords
  2. Google analytics installed
  3. URL rewriting, using ugly URLs such as /?page=this_crap&237 rather than /search-engine-friendly-hyphens/

However, M2E Pictures has undergone SEO treatment. Not only the good type that makes your site easier for search engines to crawl and index, but the scammy, spammy type as well.

M2E Pictures has set up a fake blog to promote itself and provide links to M2E.net in the hopes of boosting its PageRank. Under the persona "Vladimir Voyka", the site fraudulently uses a photo of Vladimir M. Shalaev, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University.

M2E Pictures has also been spamming film-making message boards. The comments are a ruse, their contents insipid yet innocuous enough to avoid being deleted by inattentive moderators. The real payload is the link to M2E.net in the comment signature and user profile, again trying to boost PageRank. Examples of this can be seen on Rogue Cinema, Bloody Disgusting, Kung Fu Cinema, Indie Film Chat, Filmmakers Network, DVX User, DV-Forums and Total Film.

The user responsible for these messages is "Brianna Talore" [briannatalore]. All of Ms Talore's forum accounts were created around 19 October 2010, all left between 6-9 messages, and all stopped posting on 10 November 2011. During the same period, briannatalore left comments on blogs promoting M2E Pictures like this and added M2E.net to social bookmarking sites like this and this.

Ms Talore went on to submit a short article titled How to Get Film Finance for your Movie Idea with a link to M2E.net to a sleazy content farm. Then she did it again, to another content farm. And again. And again and again. And then, just to be sure, again and again and again and again and again.

There is no sign of a Brianna Talore ("Did you mean: Brianna Taylor ?") existing anywhere else, apart from this blatant shill-work. Chalk her up as yet another fake person promoting M2E - there might still be more.

Plagiarism

If the previous discoveries weren't bad enough, we discovered that large chunks of M2E Digital are a bizarre mishmash of content ripped off from other sites, cobbled together with its company name inserted and passed off as its own.

The list of plagiarised content includes M2E Digital's material about:

  1. How Web Hosting Works
  2. The Phases of Web Design
  3. What Content Management Is
  4. The Benefits of Social Integration
  5. SEO and How It Works
  1. Website Analysis
  2. Competitive Analysis
  3. Initial Ranking Report
  4. Content Optimization
  5. HTML Code Optmization
  6. Meta Tag Creation & Optimization
  7. HTML Sitemap Creation
  8. Google Analytics Setup & Monitoring
  9. Google Webmaster Tools Setup
  10. RSS Feed Generation
  11. WWW Redirection
  12. Canonicalization
  13. URL Rewriting
  14. Off Page Optimization
  15. Manual Search Engine Submission
  16. Local Business Submission
  17. Reciprocal Link Exchange
  18. Social Media Marketing
  19. Social Bookmarking
  20. Article Submission
  21. Press Release Creation
  22. Blog Creation
  23. Forum Posting
  24. Classified Ad Creation
  25. Video Promotion

However, the absolute topper is the plagiarised description of its article creation service:

"Our team consists of experts on topics that are as diverse as our clients. Whether it is a simple article for schoolchildren to complicated scientific articles, our research and writing capabilities are able to cover it. We have content writing professionals who will create unique articles for you."

Ri-i-ight.

Clientele

Given M2E Digital's utterly distasteful business practices, we were concerned whether anybody had been unfortunate enough to be deceived by it. Thankfully, it would appear the damage to the wider public has, so far, been limited.

M2E Digital has acquired its clients by good old-fashioned nepotism. To date, M2E Digital has created websites for M2E co-founder Nick Matthews and his sister Marisha, along with James Anderson, Jayne West and John Khammash who appear to be friends of Murali K. Thalluri.

More recently, M2E Digital has announced the development of a mobile application for MedEntry, a company that prepares students for the medical entrance exam. MedEntry, no stranger to controversy itself, is a family company directed by Ed Boyapati, Thalluri's uncle.

We would urge any prospective clients of M2E Digital to investigate our claims, and to shop around. We believe you can find equivalent, if not better services for a lower price by dealing with freelance contractors directly.

Conclusion

After the screed of allegations against Thalluri, detailed both on this blog as well in the media at large - the MJJ Forum, the IMDb Boards, a dodgy victims of crime payout, 2:37's dedication to Kelly, etc - upon discovering all this, one can only feel that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

And that, readers, is saddening.

Despite being grilled by the media spotlight and burning all sorts of industry bridges, Murali K. Thalluri hasn't, apparently, learned a damned thing. Once the media lost interest, he resumed his deceitful behaviour, trying to claw back the only way he knew how. Thalluri has not even learned to become more cunning. His latest tactics have been clumsy, sloppy and, frankly, almost offensively easy to uncover.

This dog, it would seem, cannot be taught new tricks.

Bunny out.

2 comments:

emilly said...

nice informative stuff
website design perth

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work. This site is a fascinating insight into Thalluri's nefarious ways.