August 5th, 2007

Fake Fake Steve Jobs On Forbes.com

by

It’s not surprising that someone finally unmasked the author of The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs AKA Fake Steve Jobs. It’s not really that surprising either that Fake Steve turned out to be an “old media” journalist who’s been fooling all the “new media” geeks. It’s not even that surprising that a journalist at an “old media” institution like the NYT broke this quintessentially new media story — which has utterly peeved the geekosphere, who claim the NYT shouldn’t have bothered (and spoiled the fun), but I think this is a BIG media story.

What IS surprising, now that the fun’s over, is that Forbes, which employs Fake Steve’s alter ego Dan Lyons, thinks moving the blog over to Forbes.com can keep the dream alive — the front page of Forbes.com right now feels so deeply ironic I can’t even put it into words — you just have to see it (click thumbnail for larger image):

real-fake-steve-jobs-forbescom.jpg

I suspect Dan Lyons wasn’t given a choice in the matter — and maybe Forbes.com felt they didn’t have a choice in the matter either, to see whether they could milk the cow. (David Churbuck estimates that Fake Steve is worth about $250,000 a year — doh!)

The shame is that all of the innovation is happening outside the walls of big media companies, whether it’s new media technology platforms like Digg and Reddit, or new editorial forms, like anonymous satirical blogs about colorful celebrities. Independents pioneered the blog form, and then media companies rushed in to follow when it proved wildly successful. It’s the same now with Fake Steve and Forbes.com.

Fake Steve proves that big media companies have the talent in house — they just can’t get out of their own way to experiment with disruptive innovations.

It would be nice to see some big media companies leading with new ideas rather than following for a change.

UPDATE
David Churck, who has known Dan Lyons for years, and who knew Dan was Fake Steve (and who also happens to be the founding editor of Forbes.com), reports that multiple media companies were bidding for Dan’s work. I can only hope that Dan Lyons emerges as the big winner here — Dan has a perfectly timed book starring Fake Steve that will probably sell it out in pre-order.

We’ll see whether Forbes.com proves worthy of Dan’s talent. This should be a cautionary tale for every media company — nurture your talent, let them pursue new ideas and disruptive innovations, including those that take them outside the walls of the firm. When everyone on your editorial staff has the power to start their own micromedia company, you need to redefine the boundaries of where and how that staff can create value — inside and outside the firm.

  • Hilarious to watch Lyons chewing his way towards his knee over this. In his infamous “Attack of the Blogs” article, he had this to say:
    “Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective.”

    He has relentlessly hounded Pamela Jones of Groklaw on both his Floating Point blog and as Fake Steve, yet when valleywag was working towards unmasking him, he said that what they were doing:
    “definitely fall outside the boundaries of what most decent civilized human beings consider to be appropriate behavior.”

    and:
    “To whatever bit of pond scum is doing this stuff, let me say this: This was fun, up to a point. You’ve gone past that point. Stop.”

    Hypocritical? You bet.

    As for Dan’s wonderful devices used to make FSJ so popular: He *stole outright* the penchant for “pet names” for industry big wigs and the usage of “tard” as prefix and suffix from the Yahoo finance SCO message board, http://messages.finance.yahoo....
    a place frequented by Linux enthusiasts (who Dan likes to refer to as “bomb tossing zealots”, “crunchies” etc).
    Dan wrote a piece about the people there called “Revenge of the Nerds” several years ago and has been trolling the place ever since, plundering the vernacular and humor for his FSJ blog and, apparently, his upcoming book.

    What a prince.

  • @Ian, OK, granted, but it's "new" for traditional media companies, who have until recently never dreamed about giving their editorial talent a platform to experiment outside of a fixed number of column inches.

  • Ian Kemmish

    "new editorial forms, like anonymous satirical blogs about colorful celebrities"

    New? NEW? N-E-W? What about the "Dear Bill" column in Private Eye throughout Denis Thatcher's residence in Downing Street? It wasn't even a new form then....

  • Forbes wasn't the only big media company to bid for Dan's work -- when it was anonymous -- probably two or three others were in serious discussions. Forbes got it because Dan eventually had to tell them about it.

  • @Matt

    Who said the Forbes.com would have had to put Fake Steve on Forbes.com if they would have been behind it from the beginning? They could have put it up on Blogger the same way -- and just sold ads on to it -- and paid Dan Lyons to spend more time on it.

    Of course, the ads might have given it away, but still, that assumption you make is precisely why Forbes.com never would have done it. And why big media companies are so stuck.

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