Meet the real Fake Steve Jobs: Forbes' Daniel Lyons

The New York Times unmasks the writer behind "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs."

Published August 6, 2007 11:00AM (EDT)

The New York Times has just published what for Silicon Valley types is a Pentagon Papers-level scoop: The fake Steve Jobs, reporter Brad Stone discovered, is Daniel Lyons, an editor at Forbes magazine.

"Fake Steve," for those of you who aren't hip to the phenomenon of pseudonymous tech-biz blogging, is the fellow behind the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, a popular online outpost of jaded and gossipy Valley dish. Whether on the topic of free software-loving "freetards," dissatisfied Apple customers ("Suing me is like suing god"), or his rivals (aka Beastmaster & Co.), the Fake Steve mouths off in the irritated, egomaniacal manner that folks in the Valley imagine would come naturally to the outsize CEO of Apple. Everyone knew the blog wasn't really Steve Jobs' -- but until now, the fellow's real ID was a mystery.

"I'm stunned that it's taken this long," Lyons told Stone when the reporter asked the editor if he was really Fake Steve. "I have not been that good at keeping it a secret. I've been sort of waiting for this call for months."

Stone writes that he discovered Lyons' secret through old-fashioned reporting. Last year, Lyons' editor began shopping around a book by the Fake Steve -- a satire that, as Stone puts it, "imagines Apple's chief executive grappling with his real-life stock option backdating troubles and getting help, and bad advice, from friends like Larry Ellison, Bono and Al Gore."

During the book sale it emerged that Fake Steve was a published novelist who worked at a large business magazine; Stone began poring over writers who fit that bill, and when he came across Lyons' other blog, the similar writing style was a dead giveaway.

Lyons tells Stone that he began writing as Fake Steve as an experiment; he's never interviewed Jobs nor had any special access inside Apple, but found blogging as the chief exec quite addictive, and whenever he tried to stop, readers would beg him to come back.

Probably only great things can happen for Lyons now. The NYT unmasking sets a major bit of buzz for "Options," and Forbes, his employer, has just announced that it will start publishing Fake Steve's diary from now on (no doubt with hefty remuneration).

Fake Steve responded to the unmasking by pointing out the virtues of old media over new. "For six months Dr. Evil and Mr. Bigglesworth put their big brains together and couldn't come up with the answer," writes the Fake Steve today, referring to Nick Denton and his staff at the gossip blog Valleywag, which had long been digging into the Fake Steve mystery. Valleywag fingered Leander Kahney of Wired News, Andy Ihnatko of Macworld, and several others as the real secret Steve. Gloats Fake Steve: "Guy from the Times did it in a week. So much for the trope about smarty-pants bloggers disrupting old media. Brilliant. My only regret is that we didn't get a chance to see Bigglesworth take a few more swings and misses."

But by far the best part of the whole story is the Real Steve Jobs' reaction. Timesman John Markoff -- who contributed to Stone's story -- seems to have contacted Jobs via iChat. Jobs "did not seem all that interested when told the identity of his online doppelganger," the Times piece says. "He said in an instant message conversation that he had no interest in reading Mr. Lyons's novel."

See Brad Stone's story here, and his accumulated evidence against Lyons here.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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