Fri, Aug 10, 2007 - Page 9 News List

The Web's fake Steve Jobs is finally revealed

By Brad Stone  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SAN FRANCISCO

For the last 14 months, high-tech insiders have been eating up the work of an anonymous blogger who assumed the persona of Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive and one of the world's most famous businessmen.

The mysterious writer has used his blog, the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, to lampoon Jobs and his reputation as a difficult and egotistical leader, as well as to skewer other high-tech companies, tech journalists, venture capitalists, open-source software fanatics and Silicon Valley's overall aura of excess.

The acerbic postings of "Fake Steve," as he is known, have attracted a plugged-in readership -- both the real Jobs and Bill Gates have acknowledged reading the blog. At the same time, Fake Steve has evaded the best efforts of Silicon Valley's gossips to discover his real identity.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes magazine who lives near Boston, has been quietly enjoying the attention.

"I'm stunned that it's taken this long," said Lyons, 46, when a reporter interrupted his vacation in Maine on Sunday to ask him about Fake Steve. "I have not been that good at keeping it a secret. I've been sort of waiting for this call for months."

Lyons writes and edits technology articles for Forbes and is the author of two works of fiction, most recently a 1998 novel, Dog Days. In October, Da Capo Press will publish his satirical novel written in the voice of the Fake Steve character, Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, a Parody.

Unlike the off-the-cuff ramblings on his blog, Options is a well-plotted satire that 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.

The book, in part, led to Lyons' unmasking. Last year, his agent showed the manuscript to several publishers and told them the anonymous author was a published novelist and writer for a major business magazine. The New York Times found Lyons by looking for writers who fit those two criteria, and then by comparing the writing of "Fake Steve" to a blog Lyons writes in his own name, called Floating Point.

Lyons said he invented the Fake Steve character last year, when a small group of chief executives-turned-bloggers attracted some media attention. He noticed that they rarely spoke candidly.

"I thought, wouldn't it be funny if a CEO kept a blog that really told you what he thought? That was the gist of it," he says.

Lyons says he recalled trying out the voices of several chief executives before settling on the colorful Apple co-founder. He twice tried to relinquish the blog, but started again after being deluged by fans e-mailing to ask why Fake Steve had disappeared.

Though many speculators have guessed Fake Steve was an Apple insider, Lyons says he has never interviewed Jobs or even written a story about the company.

"I have zero sources inside Apple," he said. "I had to go out and get books and biographies to learn about a lot of the back story."

Lyons said writing as Fake Steve became addictive. He developed a unique lexicon and catalog of insults for the character. Bill Gates is Beastmaster, and Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, is Squirrel Boy.

Last month, when a reader asked Fake Steve about Apple's succession plan, he replied: "My plan at this time is to live forever and to remain in charge here, though perhaps with fewer restrictions on my power. The truth is, I am not human -- I am a man-god, son of Zeus, born to mortal woman but fathered by the ruler of the gods, lord of thunder."

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