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Jobs' blogging alter ego loses his anonymity

Peeved fans say not knowing the identity of the author of the Apple founder's fictional musings was part of the satirical website's fun.

August 07, 2007|Michelle Quinn | Times Staff Writer

san francisco -- One of Silicon Valley's big mysteries was revealed Monday, and bloggers said it was like finding out there was no Santa Claus.

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs had become a must-read blog in the high-tech industry. Its anonymous author channeled the mercurial Apple Inc. chief executive, satirizing Silicon Valley and sending up other icons of industry.

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates was known as "Beastmaster." Jonathan Schwartz, the chief executive of Sun Microsystems Inc., was "my little pony," in honor of his ponytail. Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive and an Apple director, went by "Squirrel Boy."

The real Jobs and Gates admitted to reading the blog, which featured posts with titles such as "Geniuses have feelings too."

The New York Times on Monday outed Fake Steve: He's Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes magazine.

Casting doubt on the blog's appeal now that its author is known, more than 100 commenters on the New York Times' Bits blog pilloried reporter Brad Stone for spoiling their fun. "You have done the equivalent of telling a 4-year-old that there is no Santa Claus," one Fake Steve fan wrote.

Stone doesn't feel bad about it.

"Like everyone else in the Valley I was a huge fan of the site, but there was a whole cottage industry devoted to guessing who he was," Stone said. "I think the anonymity was part of the fun and people are entitled to feel disappointed. But come on. If you are doing an anonymous blog, there's an implicit challenge: Find me if you can."

Fourteen months ago, Lyons, who wrote a Forbes story criticizing bloggers, began a bunch of fake journals to see what it would be like to have a blog. He tried Google co-founder Sergey Brin and other high-tech heavyweights, but none seemed to work -- "There was no jazz in them," Lyons said -- except Jobs.

The blog, at www.fakesteve.blogspot.com, lampooned Jobs as a vegetarian, Zen Buddhist, cutthroat demigod.

"People read Fake Steve because it's an oasis closer to reality than what we're dealing with every day, being bombarded with press releases," said venture capitalist Roger McNamee, one of Fake Steve's targets and a Forbes board member.

The hunt for his identity grew more feverish when word leaked out that the person behind the diary was writing a book in the voice of Jobs. Lyons hadn't figured out another way to profit from the success of Fake Steve.

"You can imagine how hard it is to sell ads when you want to be anonymous," he said. "There's a little problem with the business model."

He worried a bit about journalism ethics. Apple wasn't on his regular beat, but other companies he sometimes lampooned were.

"As long as it's a comic strip and it's fun and I'm not trying to short stocks, it's OK," he recalled telling himself.

The book, "Options," is scheduled for a September release. It played a role in his unmasking: The literary agent pitching it told publishers that the author was a writer for a major business magazine as well as a published novelist. Stone received a manuscript and began to compare styles.

When asked about it, Lyons fessed up.

But on the Fake Steve blog, the author stayed in character. He took a few shots at Stone for exposing him, then promised to continue.

"Apple faithful, here in our darkest hour I know what you're thinking: What's next for FSJ? Well, I'm taking a few days off to sit in a lake and do some yoga and meditation and non-thinking."

michelle.quinn@latimes.com

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