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Apple’s most famous faux-blogger on taking on Steve Jobs

To PC fans, Dan Lyons is just an editor at Forbes magazine. But to technology geeks like Sarah Itani, he’s a rock star. When the BU Academy senior recently met him at a school assembly, she did what any fan would do: asked Lyons, who’s perhaps best known for creating the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, a satirical blog that lampoons Apple’s chief executive, to sign her iPod. “My iPod has failed five times,” she says. “So I think it’s only fitting that Fake Steve autograph it.”

Lyons, who shared his story with BU Academy students earlier this month, rose to stardom in August when the New York Times outed him as the anonymous blogger who assumed the persona of Jobs, the cofounder of Apple Computers and one of the world’s most famous businessmen. Lyons kept his readers guessing for months — speculation about Fake Steve’s identity ranged from Leander Kahney of Wired to Eric Savitz of Barron’s and John Paczkowski of All Things Digital — all while skewering Jobs, other high-tech companies, tech journalists, and Silicon Valley in general. The unique lexicon and cast of characters he developed fooled everyone, even his publisher at Forbes. “Shortly before the article ran in the Times,” Lyons recalls, “he sent Fake Steve an e-mail that said, ‘Dear Fake Steve. We think you’re a genius. How would you like to work for Forbes magazine?’”

In October, Lyons published a satirical novel written in the voice of the Fake Steve character, Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, a Parody. He plans to continue writing the Fake Steve blog for at least another year.   

Lyons’ wife, Alexandra, is an instructor at BU Academy. BU Today caught up with Lyons after he spoke to the BUA students to find out more about Fake Steve and to ask how blogs impact the media.

BU Today: Why did you choose to parody Steve Jobs?
Lyons:
Well, I write for Forbes, so I spend a lot of time reading about Apple, and I think the story of how Jobs turned the company around is pretty amazing. I also think Jobs lends himself to parody, because while he’s known to be a notoriously difficult manager, he also presents the image of being this Zen-type, New-Agey person. Jobs rarely gives interviews, and when he does, they’re always very controlled and scripted, so no one really knows what he thinks, and it’s tempting to just leap in there and fill the void yourself.

Where do you get your ideas for your posts?
I get a lot of e-mail from people sending me ideas. And because I’m a reporter covering the tech industry, I pay close attention to what’s happening in the business. It’s pretty easy to take something that happens in the tech world and spin it through the eyes of Jobs.

Is Fake Steve anything like the real Steve Jobs?
Generally, no. Every once in a while, the voice of Fake Steve coincides with something the real Steve Jobs says. The great thing about Fake Steve is that he has become his own little character, and I just let him rip on all kinds of things. I also have an entire supporting cast of characters that Fake Steve writes about.

Such as?
Oh, Larry Ellison — he’s the CEO of Oracle Corporation — Al Gore, and Katie Cotton, Apple’s public relations person. She’s supposedly a very nice woman, but I portray her as this dragon lady who absolutely hates the press. Then there’s Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal. I call him Goatberg because of his goatee, and the running joke is that Apple has him under long-term hypnosis so he won’t say anything bad about the company. And Al Gore is portrayed as a depressed alcoholic who only does the global warming thing because Tipper wants him out of the house.

Why Al Gore?
He’s on the Apple board, and he and the real-life Steve are actually friends.

Has the Internet killed the media?
Oh, no. I think it’s added to it. New technologies always bring a wave of destruction, but then there’s an incredible wave of creation that follows.

Is there any chance of blogs replacing the six o’clock news?
God, I hope not. I was recently on a panel for the Online News Association, and there was a blogger from the Washington Post who claimed people aren’t reading newspapers because they’re too boring. He argued that news has to be more biased and opinionated. So I ended up arguing against this guy and told him I don’t want to pick up the Washington Post or the New York Times and have it read like Fake Steve. Then a journalism professor in the audience said his students only want to blog, and he asked if we need to change the way we teach journalism. I told him no, we still need to teach basic reporting skills. I think that’s the problem with a lot of blogs and Web sites: the authors don’t know how to report, so it’s just a lot of heat and no light.

Are you worried about the future of newspapers and magazines?
Oh, yeah. That’s one of the reasons I started to blog. I figured I should develop some online skills so that if and when I need to look for another job, I can say, “Hey, I may be old, but I know the Internet.”

Will newspapers and magazines find their salvation online?
I think it varies from publication to publication. A publication like the New Yorker, which has really long articles, is less likely to become available only online than a daily newspaper where a lot of the material was probably already seen yesterday online.

Are you a Mac or a Microsoft guy?
I’m more of a Mac guy. We use Macs at Forbes, and I personally switched a few years ago because I got fed up with Spyware.

Would you call yourself a geek?
Yeah. A good kind of geek, but a geek nonetheless.

What’s Fake Steve’s next move?
Well, I’m going to keep doing the blog because I have a contract with Forbes through the end of next year. And I’ve also got the book out now. There’s a slight chance that the blog could be made into some sort of TV show, but it would be about a fictional Silicon Valley company, not Steve Jobs specifically. And that will be it. Fake Steve will be put to sleep, and you’ll never hear from him again.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.