The New York Times has the news that Fake Steve Jobs, the anonymous blogger pretending to be Apple's Steve Jobs, is actually Daniel Lyons of Forbes. Why am I not surprised? Maybe we should be, since this is the man who wrote about the "evils" of anonymous blogging in "Attack of the Blogs", where he said that blogs are “the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective.”
Um. Dude. Talk about world class hypocrisy.
He says he's worried now about being sued. From his lips to God's ears, as they say. The question is, was he put up to this? Here's something of interest, a headline from last month on Techsploder:
Fake Steve Jobs is a Microsoft blogger operative
You don't say? Tell me more.
Here's what prompted the headline on June 23, 2007, figuring out that Fake Steve was one of the bloggers involved in Microsoft's "People Ready" ad campaign, and apparently Lyons as Fake Steve kicked off the campaign:
Nick Denton at Valleywag has a short yarn about bloggers parroting Microsoft's "people ready" slogan, in a campaign by John Battelle's Federated Media. I agree with Denton that it's sad to see allegedly respected blog-voices bend over and take the marketing dollar so readily. You did get paid, didn't you guys?...
"People ready" does look familiar though... and I remember where I saw it first, namely on The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. FSJ casually drops it into the text, like this:
Soon they'll trot him out to make some speech about whatever new slogan IBM is cooking up for the year ahead. "People Ready"? Nope, taken. "On Demand"? Er, tried that. "Open Your Source and Bend Over"? Nice.
That my friends is a true blogliminal. You don't really think about it, but it sticks to your brain like bubblegum to sneaker soles.
The above blogliminal was launched in January already, which points to FSJ being used as a very oblique and discreet test-bed by Microsoft marketing. Obviously, "People Ready" slipped in like a Vaselined gerbil, so it was time to disseminate it wider, with the help of the usual A-List bloggers.
If you read FSJ, and filter out the funnies, you'll see that the topics are pretty much what Microsoft's pushing at any given time. Stuff that desperately needs marketing support like Vista, Zune, Windows, iPhone and Bono. It doesn't take a genius to work out what's going on here, and FSJ is a blogger so... nuff sed eh?
Techsploder didn't know who Fake Steve was, but it had formed a clear picture of *what* he was. Others who participated in the Microsoft People Ready ad campaign, like Om Malik, later acknowledged being paid, and he had enough class to apologize:
So without making any excuses, to my readers, if participation in Microsoft’s advertising campaign has made you doubt my integrity even for a second, then I apologize....
Microsoft asked us to join a conversation, and we did. I wasn’t paid to participate in the conversation, but Microsoft ran an ad-campaign that paid us on the basis of CPM.
I don't know if Fake Steve got paid by Microsoft, but if he did, someone at Microsoft knew who he was. Even if they merely used him to test market the ad phrase. Ditto with the deal with Wired that has now come to light. So people must have known.
The Times points out that Lyons used the blog to push his own agenda too:
Mr. Lyons clearly used the Fake Steve persona to further some of his own interests and positions. For example, articles in other business publications and their journalists were a frequent target of criticism from Fake Steve, while Forbes got off comparatively easy.
Fake Steve also had it in for the devout fans of the open-source operating system Linux, calling them “freetards.” Mr. Lyons has written several articles for Forbes in which he has been critical of the cultlike aura around the free software movement and its founder, Richard Stallman.
I mention it because he has a book deal now (it has been my observation that folks who do Microsoft's bidding somehow do get money), and that means he's probably worth suing, if anyone thinks it's worth doing. Discovery might be interesting, indeed. If anyone does sue him, you can count on it that Groklaw will be covering that litigation in detail. And Forbes... what is its role in all this? Inquiring minds want to know. They certainly pushed the blog. They still are. They are sponsoring the blog now, as of tomorrow. Like anyone will read it any more. Actually, so did Bill Gates pimp the blog, now that I think of it, at All Things Digital 5 (at 3:16, his very first words, obviously pre-planned). But legalities aside, here's my favorite part of the Times piece:
As for Mr. Jobs himself — the real one — he did not seem all that interested when told the identity of his online doppelganger. He said in a phone interview that he had no interest in reading Mr. Lyons’s novel.
Ditto. I never read Fake Steve either, except for one article someone sent me when he attacked me personally. Why not? I'm not attracted to mean people. I believe I'm not the only one who notices something ethically wrong with that type of humor. And I don't need to do discovery to know what Dan Lyons is. When I was sent that article, I told the person that sent it that I thought it was Dan Lyons. I kid you not. Here's what I can't wait for though: Darl McBride's next speech about unbiased journalism.
Update: There is an interesting tidbit in the coverage by Reuters. After mentioning that the New York Times reporter figured out it was Lyons by matching up certain similarities in writing style, Reuters tells us this:
Fake Steve, also known as "FSJ" or "El Jobso," blasts Linux fans as "freetards" and skewers leading journalists as "filthy hacks" before signing off with the Indian salutation "namaste."
Someone supporting SCO Group on the Yahoo SCOX message board uses that salutation as well. Just saying. There's even a namasteplease nym, who claims to be from India. Actually, there is a complete stable of nyms. Here's one example. So, come clean, Dan Lyons. Is that you? How about the vicious wherespj blog? Was that you too?
And here's a comment that raises a point I hadn't thought of recently. When Lyons wrote the article, "Is Linux for Losers?" in December of 2005, where he, probably without intending to, highlighted Theo De Radt's intense jealousy of Linus, a comment was left on a blog saying this about it: "I really can't believe Lyons isn't under investigation for stock manipulation." I don't know anything about stocks, so I can't comment. Just reporting what I'm finding. Some brainiac probably will now take a look at his role in the SCO saga and try to match things up, though, to figure out if there is a pattern. One thing I think is likely: this has put SCO in an impossible position, as far as being able to claim that IBM used anybody for anything.
Update 2: Forbes has now issued a statement about Fake Steve moving to Forbes:
Forbes.com editor Paul Maidment said on the magazine's website: "From Jonathan Swift to Jon Steward, satire has spoken truth to power as well as amused.
"Fake Steve Jobs will add a different voice to Forbes.com, but one that is in the Forbes tradition for both."
Truth, eh? That raises the legal possibilities, I'd say. If Fake Steve is being promoted as speaking truth, then what he says needs to be true to avoid libel claims, I think. I guess, just imagining for a moment, if I were going to sue, I'd pick the UK as the ideal spot. Others are beginning to note the legal issues and how the blog will now have to change. Caroline McCarthy on CNET writes this:
Personally, I would've liked to see him "end" the "Secret Diary" and then let himself be outed; in my opinion, things will have to change pretty significantly now that there's someone (and a big company behind him) to blame for any of Fake Steve's occasional edginess. The blog displays links back to Forbes; is Lyons still going to be able to get away with Fake Steve's tauting name-calling of "Squirrel Boy" (that's Google CEO Eric Schmidt, FYI) and the like? Will Forbes have to take the blame if the blog uses any more unspeakable epithets for Nick Denton? Critics now know where to point a finger; that's why Banksy can get away with what he does.
I might be totally wrong. Maybe Lyons--who surrendered to the Times without protest, it appears--will be able to sufficiently maintain Fake Steve's appeal. But I doubt it. Think of it this way: Sacha Baron Cohen can still put on his Borat mustache and accent, but now, nobody's going to mistake him for an actual Kazakhstani documentarian. It's the end of a (mini) era indeed.
And here's Adario Strange in an article titled, "The Talented Mr. Hypocrite: Anonymous Blogger Outed As Forbes Scribe":
For the moment, let’s put aside the fact that a Forbes journalist calling independent bloggers like Arrington and Malik on the carpet regarding ethics while blogging anonymously is like Microsoft’s Bill Gates criticizing Twitter’s Evan Williams regarding open software standards.
Instead let’s take a look two years into the past when Lyons penned an article titled “Attack of the Blogs.” The article became famous due to its attack on the practice of blogging, and anonymous blogging in particular. Lyons wrote, "The combination of massive reach and legal invulnerability makes corporate character assassination easy to carry out. Dry treatises on patent law and trade policy don't drive traffic (or ad sales) for bloggers and hosts; blood sport does." That Lyons turned around and decided to profit (he has a book deal connected to the site’s content) from the very thing he castigated so recently earns him a new nickname: Fake Daniel Lyons.
That's probably not what he was aiming for. If you are curious, here's how the New York Times' Brad Stone figured it out.
Update 3: Speaking of hypocrisy, or cluelessness about who owns his blog's servers, depending on whether he knows it or not, but Fake Steve has been attacking Linux users for 14 months on Linux servers. I also learned that when the blog started it wasn't fakesteve.blogspot.com. It was called The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs and the url can still be viewed if you mouse over the url in this article. That would mean to me that he gave readers no clue at first that it was not the real Steve Jobs writing the blog. The change seems to have occurred in August of 2006, for historians, as you can see on Wayback. Historians and lawyers. It redirects to fakesteve.blogspot.com now.
Update 4: Valleywag has some interesting info on Dan Lyons' money troubles, as they call them and a question about whether the Times outing was a Forbes setup.
Update 5: Roughly Drafted chooses to focus on "Fake Steve Jobs and the SCO Shill Who Hated Linux" -- Lyons' ceaselessly plugging SCO as the eventual winner in the litigation. RD calls him the anti-blog blogger, with a photo of the Forbes cover story "Attack of the Blogs":
The Anti-Blog Blogger.
Lyons not only maintained a prominent pro-SCO, anti-reality blog that rivaled Rob Enderle in its contempt of all things open, but also regularly delivered scathing attacks upon the hero of Groklaw, Pamela Jones, and her crusade to expose the garbage SCO's lawyers was throwing around.
Lyons' pro-SCO blogging even ended up being entered by SCO as testimony in its case against IBM. Even worse, Lyons defended Maureen O'Gara....
Lyons also spread his blog rage against... blogs in general, particularly anonymous writers, making his own sappy indignation as FSJ a bit hard to swallow. His front page story “Attack of the Blogs” of the November 14, 2005 issue of Forbes breathlessly asked, “They destroy brands and wreck lives. Is there any way to fight back?”
More on all of that business later, but how was it that the obviously sharp Lyons chose to side with and promote the case of the parasites of SCO in their transparent assault against Linux? ....
That mistake resulted in years of blogging up SCO as a shining star and blogging down Linux and any who might defend its case as crazy religious radicals. He was wrong, and his documented history of tenacious attacks on defenders of open source mar his newly discovered identity and reputation as the writer of a witty spoof blog.
Coming up: why Lyons was so wrong.
I believe I can answer that without peeking, but expressing it might violate our comments policy. Stay tuned for Roughly Drafted's next article. By the way, to the clueless in the media with the initials P.M., I'm not anonymous if you know my name. Duh. Good thing for you I'm not Dan Lyons, or I'd call you a name that starts with "re" and rhymes with freetard.
As for Fake Steve, it's looking grim for his pure fiction, as well as what many of us consider his tech reporting fiction. Can he ever cover Linux again and have any credibility with anyone? As for FSJ, people are already getting bored with that pretense:
All we care about is that we still get Fake Steve-- the wacky ramblings and sparkling insights of Steve Jobs. Is that what we'll get? As Gruber points out, it's probably not. FSJ's last post is not in the voice of Steve Jobs; it's in the voice of someone pretending to be him. The curtain is falling already.
There's an interesting parallel to this, and it's newsworthy, too: Bree, as of last Friday, is dead. Lonelygirl15, the young woman who took over YouTube and then was discovered to be the product of an imagination, was killed in the final online episode of her story. When Lonelygirl15 was outed, I was just as intrigued as I was with the mystery of FSJ-- who is she and what is this really all about? But when the mystery was revealed, I grew bored with it, and a look at the last Lonelygirl video tells me that I didn't miss much ...
Just so you know, Fake Steve was never that big outside a certain circle. Even today, when I went to Technorati, I see only 360 blog posts about FakeSteve. There are 1,722 blog posts about Groklaw, and I've never even added Groklaw to Technorati's lists. The Times article said he got 700,000 visitors last month. That's chump change, folks. ACT loved it, of course. Perhaps they share common interests.
And if you are ever tempted to read Business 2.0, make a note that in their current "The 50 Who Matter Now" list, Fake Steve is ranked higher than the real Steve Jobs. Just so you know that Business 2.0 clearly has lost its sense of proportion and can't be relied upon for solid business information any longer. A little child could tell you that they have it backwards, but I mention it, in case anyone ever does sue Fake Steve or rather the man behind the curtain. That's just the kind of detail that a judge would eat right up when figuring out if there was damage to the Real Steve's reputation.
Hmm. I'm on the jury.... Yes. I vote yes. Real damage was done to a real person. I believe that's called defamation. And judges don't think it's funny the way a decadent Silicon Valley might. As a juror, I wouldn't be laughing either. I'll tell you why. The real Steve was recovering from cancer surgery of a truly serious kind. And every day he had to wake up and know that people all over the neighborhood where he lived and worked were reading that he was an egomaniacal jerk selling products that could be overcharged for because they were shiny and white. And some did believe it. The reputational damage was to him as a person but also to his company. Did it affect share value? How do you quantify? Well, judges find ways. But the personal is worse, because he has to wonder now what everyone is thinking of him, how it affects his legacy, how much they accepted of that trash Lyons dished up, a man who has never started or built a successful company in his life. And never will.
Now, you tell me: how low and cold do you have to be to not care about that? If it's funny, then it's OK to harm a human being's good name because he competes with Microsoft? Folks, famous people are humans too, just like you. And they have human feelings, just like you. If it were you at the receiving end, would it still be funny? Defamation isn't funny. Not ever. Not even when it's funny. That's why they pass laws about it, because not everyone understands this simple ethical truth on their own. By the way, here's a recent ruling, about a California guy who allegedly libeled folks in NJ. Guess where the court says he can be sued? In New Jersey, because he targeted New Jersey with his remarks and knew they would be read there. I'm thinking the Real Steve Jobs could sue in sunny California, then. What? Fake Steve wasn't targeting California's Silicon Valley? Just saying.
P.S. Lyons is now admitting that sometimes he was too mean and went too far. That makes him a bit more likable, unless it's just Fake Dan talking for effect, but at the same time, it makes him a lot easier to sue, unless he fixes those over the top mean spots. He claims he can't take it back, but he also mentions that when Larry Lessig wrote to him complaining that Lyons had written that Google gave Lessig money and that it was false, Lyons corrected the record. He can do that wherever he knows he went too far. Otherwise, I can just hear the plaintiff's lawyer with Lyons on the stand, "So, when you wrote XYZ, was that too mean? How about this part?" I'm guessing his lawyers may be advising him to do a fair bit of fixing right about now. Apologies and correcting the record can undo a lot of damage and can even keep a guy out of court sometimes.
Um. Why would you write that Google gave Lessig money when you knew it wasn't true? No. Really.
Well, maybe Google is getting some of its own back. If you click on the link to all the news stories about Fake Steve's outing, at the bottom of the first page of results, you find this gem of a story,
Oops! Woman Sells Ashes of Husband's Former Wife:
Anita Lewis wants the big ceramic turtle back. She sold it at a rummage sale over the weekend for 50 cents.
Lewis says she didn't realize the turtle was actually an urn containing the ashes of her husband's previous wife. Lewis explains her husband was asleep when she started hauling stuff into her Elmira, New York, yard for the sale.
Lewis says the woman who bought the turtle said she intended to use it as a cookie jar.
Sure she wants it back. So what is the connection to Dan Lyons? I have no idea. He's not married to Ann Coulter or anything, is he? Heaven only knows they are M.F.E.O. No. I think it's just Google's little joke on Dan. Or HAL's. Not to scare Lyons about his olde world changing under his feet or anything, but they run Google on Linux, you know. Uh-huh. It's true. Thousands and thousands of Linux boxes. It's Dan Lyons' worst nightmare. For real. Yo.