Fake Steve Jobs, also known as Forbes business reporter Dan Lyons, has just given a talk at the Web 2.0 conference that’s been happening this week in San Francisco, about how he accidentally created a social media empire.
His blog, which brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors each month, satirizes the tech industry from the supposed perspective of Apple cofounder and chief executive Steve Jobs.
It’s nice to be here at the expo, Lyons said, because it is the “peak of the second Internet bubble.” Lyons is succeeding by lampooning the very industry that has created the technology that allow blogs like his to succeed.
He regularly ridicules leading chief executives by putting mash-up pictures of them as animals or evil characters or cartoon characters.
“I’ve had pictures of Woz as a baboon. Larry Ellison as a pimp. Jonathan Schwartz as a My Little Pony doll. Steve Ballmer as Uncle Fester.” His coverage of Vista consisted of a picture of an elephant taking a dump. “The San Jose Mercury News will never hire me to cover tech now,” he said.
But Lyons said he started Fake Steve Jobs just as a prank. “The first factor was boredom. I had this job at Forbes, covering enterprise tech for 10 years. It sounds like a scintillating and exciting job, but believe it or not it gets a little dull. The other big thing was fear. I saw my business getting disrupted. We cover all this disruption. We freak out when it happens to us. I found I had to learn about the Internet. I can’t be in print the rest of my life. I am too young to retire.”
Before starting to blog, he asked Forbes if he could transfer to Forbes.com, but they turned him down. And then he wrote an article on how bad blogs were, and he got crucified.
Then he remembered Jonathan Schwartz had a blog: “I thought, what if some CEO did go nuts and was a really vicious blogger,” he said. “Why Steve Jobs? It’s obvious. The Mac culture freaks me out.”
He laughs at the grandiosity of Silicon Valley, like when Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the media changes once every hundred years, and that Facebook’s social ad launch last fall was that change. “Really, Mark, it’s like you’re doing Webkinz for adults,” he said, comparing Facebook to the online pet site for kids.
After six months, he had 90,000 monthly readers. “I thought, this is getting out of hand,” he said; the success “sparked this manhunt to find out who I was.”
The only problem: The guy offering a reward for finding out Fake Steve Jobs was the publisher of Forbes, Rich Karlgaard. The publisher truly didn’t know who he was. As Fake Steve Jobs, Lyons asked his boss if he would like to hire him. Karlgaard said yes. About that time, the New York Times outed Lyons as Fake Steve.
“I have a platform — here is why it’s a social media play; I’m going to raise money” — where it’s an open source model, with material coming in from a community of readers,” he said.
Fake Steve, Lyons said, benefits from all of the participation. Now there are blog commenters such as “Fake Vladimir Putin” that are giving him good material to keep his blog going.
All of the big media companies get it now and are all moving into the space.
“We’re going to have so much in the future that we’re crazy to worry about what is being destroyed,” he said. “I can’t imagine what will be here 10 years from now. But we are lucky to be here, despite putting up with people like Scoble.”
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