Web 2.0: 'Fake Steve Jobs' Describes How He Survived Being OutedWeb 2.0: 'Fake Steve Jobs' Describes How He Survived Being Outed
When journalist Dan Lyons was publicly outed as the caustic and popular <a href="http://fakesteve.blogspot.com/">Fake Steve Jobs,</a> he expected the blog to die. But it lived on. He found that puzzling at first, but then he realized he wasn't just writing a blog. He had created a performance space, where real people and fictional characters -- including Fake Vladimir Putin, and Fake Noam Chomsky -- talked and argued with each other.
September 21, 2008
When journalist Dan Lyons was publicly outed as the caustic and popular Fake Steve Jobs, he expected the blog to die. But it lived on. He found that puzzling at first, but then he realized he wasn't just writing a blog. He had created a performance space, where real people and fictional characters -- including Fake Vladimir Putin, and Fake Noam Chomsky -- talked and argued with each other.Lyons, who started the Fake Steve blog when he was a journalist at Forbes, and who now writes for Newsweek, spoke at Web 2.0 Expo New York on Friday. Lyons delivered a keynote following Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, and Ben Huh, CEO of I Can Has Cheezburger.
"To be an old media guy sitting backstage watching people like Arianna Huffington and I Can Has Cheezburger is like attending your own funeral in advance," Lyons said. Lyons described how the blog began as a parody, and became one of the most popular blogs on the Web. Lyons said he started the blog in 2006, writing anonymously at first. "Fake Steve" is a fictional character, not a real representation of Jobs, and not Lyons either. Lyons put the blog on hiatus when the real Steve Jobs appeared very sick at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in June, and is considering resuming the blog again now that Jobs looks healthy. Fake Steve is a thoroughly unlikable character, Lyons said.1 Lyons said he started the blog due to boredom, fear, and the desire to write parody. He was bored because he was reporting on enterprise computing for Forbes, covering companies such as IBM and EMC, and those companies were difficult and uninteresting to cover.2 He was afraid because bloggers were threatening traditional journalism in the same way that Linux threatened Sun, and Lyons, a midlevel journalist in his 40s, believed he'd be one of the first to be fired if the magazine encountered financial trouble. He'd seen it before; journalists like him were more expensive than young journalists just starting out, but they weren't superstars with job security. He'd tried to get a job on Forbes' online operation, but the online journalists were territorial and prejudiced against print journalists like himself, he said. 3 Simultaneously, Lyons saw the emergence of CEO blogs, like the one produced by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, which were very corporate and bland. Blog advocates like Robert Scoble were encouraging CEOs to blog candidly about their companies' problems and engage customers in conversations, which Lyons thought was ridiculous. What if a drunken, angry CEO wrote a blog, Lyons wondered. And the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs was born. In addition to being a journalist, Lyons is a published novelist and writer of short fiction, and he mixed all those elements together to create Jobs as a fictional character writing a parody of CEO blogs and blogging in general. Lyons said seven people handle his magazine articles, including editors and designers, and the magazine required a major corporate infrastructure to produce. On the other hand, one person wrote Fake Steve Jobs, using a free blogging service. Within a few months, the blog had 90,000 readers, greater readership than the first newspaper Lyons wrote for. Readership rose to 1.5 million people. The publisher of Forbes made it a mission to hunt down the identity of Fake Steve, offered a reward for the blogger's identity, and e-mailed Fake Steve to offer a job -- this was the same company that wouldn't hire Lyons for an online position. The New York Times outed Lyons as Fake Steve about a year ago. Lyons thought that was that, and the blog would be over once he was outed. But people kept being interested. He credits the community with much of the blog's success. Readers submit links, recommendations on what to write, and homemade artwork, and they brag when Fake Steve uses their work. Some of the characters are as sophisticated as Fake Steve himself. Fake Vladimir Putin writes in broken English -- but it's authentic broken English; Fake Vladimir writes like someone who's native language is Russian. Likewise, Fake Noam must be brilliant in real life to successfully mimic Noam Chomsky, Lyons said. Readers often take the time to create quality artwork for the site, such as an image of a beatific-looking, haloed Jesus Christ with Steve Jobs' face. Lyons showed the image on a slide, describing it as what Steve Jobs sees when he looks in the mirror, and Lyons expressed admiration for the work that went into creating the image. "I realized what I created was a performance space," Lyons said. And traditional media, said Lyons, will need to create that kind of engagement with readers to survive. Lyons recently started a real blog, under his own name, and he gets e-mail saying the blog is boring. "I really am much less interesting than Fake Steve," Lyons said. 1. I'm conflicted about whether Fake Steve is good for the Internet. On the one hand, he's witty, funny, and sometimes insightful. On the other hand, I didn't care for it when Fake Steve unfairly attacked a friend of mine. Fake Steve is nasty, and there's just too much nastiness and name-calling on the Internet. ↩ 2. Enterprise computing is, of course, the bread and butter of InformationWeek. We find it unboring. ↩ 3.As a former print journalist who embraced online early on, I'm just not going to comment on this one, at least not today. Maybe I'll have something to say when I figure out a way to say it that isn't insulting to a group of people whom I actually have a great deal of respect for. ↩
About the Author(s)
You May Also Like