Biting Into Apple's Steve Jobs

In the establishment-skewering tradition of Voltaire, Cervantes, Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne we now have a voice for our own digital age. Naturally, he came to us first in blog form. Now he's reappeared in the fleshed-out chapters of his memoir: "oPtion$, the secret life of Fake Steve Jobs." In stores on Nov. 1, it promises to deliver the inside story of a guy who doesn't really exist.

Of course the real Steve Jobs does exist. The cofounder and CEO of Apple has achieved near-mythic status in entrepreneurial, computing and even Hollywood circles (thanks to his role in creating Pixar). The Fake Steve Jobs, it turns out, is Dan Lyons, a Forbes magazine journalist who anonymously started his hilarious parody blog in the middle of 2006. (From the blog: "Dude, I invented the friggin' iPhone. Have you heard of it?") His portrait of the über-geek as an unhinged narcissist caused a stir among the Silicon Valley types Lyons lampooned. Speculating on who its author was became a popular parlor game until the New York Times's Brad Stone (formerly of NEWSWEEK) outed Lyons in August.

Still, Fake Steve continues blogging unabated. The new book isn't perfect: some of the jokes about FSJ's various obsessions, himself included, wear thin, and the options scandal that provides the story's arc isn't consistently riveting. But great swaths of it are Mac-slappingly funny. NEWSWEEK's Brian Braiker recently spoke with Lyons about the blog, the book and what he would say if he ever met the real Steve Jobs. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: You're reviewing gadgets for Forbes now. Do you get Apple stuff or have you been crossed off the list?
Dan Lyons:
I never used to get Apple stuff, because I haven't been writing about gadgets for all that long. The ironic thing is that when I got outed and Forbes changed my job, I had to call Apple for the first time this summer and say, "Can I get an iPhone?" They were really cool: they sent it to me. I'm surprised.

Were you bummed to be outed before the book came out.
I was kind of bummed. The timing was bad. I was on vacation when it happened. Right before that happened, a friend who knew it was me said, "You should do it for as long as you want to do it, shut it down, go dark and never tell anyone you did it. It'll be this Internet legend." That kind of had some appeal to me. But, whatever, it's done. On the other hand it's great not to have to keep a secret. Valleywag [a Silicon Valley gossip site] was haunting me.

But they never got it right.
No. They tried three times. [Laughs]

The blog had a following among the Silicon Valley set and in tech circles. Are you concerned that it's too insiderish or niche to work as a book?
I was. And then the [New York Times] did this review over the weekend and seemed to like it. Then this woman at the [Boston] Globe liked it. So maybe people will get it. It's kind of more about celebrity or pop culture. So I'm starting to think maybe it has some appeal beyond techies.

Maybe it's because I'm not a Forbes guy, but it's interesting to me that you say the options scandal gave it some urgency. Is that the sexiest thing to build a narrative around?
[Laughs] Is that your way of saying "That's not a very sexy topic?" So you think the idea sucks.

[Laughs] The book is hilarious. But maybe I don't really understand how options work.
Well, a blog can kind of drift, day to day. I originally thought I could do a book that was a collection of blog items. Make it a calendar. But I remember when the options thing happened I thought, "This is going to get big. The options thing is going to hit the Valley. Jobs is a very high-profile guy and they're going to want his scalp." I still think they do. I meant urgency in the sense that's more like journalism. You have to put your character at risk at the beginning of the story and then show how they get out of trouble. At least the options scandal gave it something of an arc.

And the Valley gave you something to laugh at?
The Valley is just so twisted. You go to a dinner party at someone's house and they just talk about tech all day long and what Google's gonna do. It's so weird to me and so ripe for parody. I want to do another book after this that goes after some other stuff out there.

Your Web traffic peaked around the time of your outing. You're still blogging. Have you seen a dip in traffic?
I did see a dip in September, but I'm not sure it was because of the outing. June and July were really big. I suddenly had 1.3 million page views both those months. August, because of the outing, I did 1.8. September it was down to 1 million. I don't know if that's because people are saying, "Well, now we know who it is." But there are lots of people who had never heard of it before that just started reading.

Have you heard from the real Steve Jobs yet?
No. I don't think I ever will.

Do you want to, or would you avoid him if you saw him in a dark alley?
[Laughs] No, I'd love to meet him. I really think he's just an incredible guy. Before the outing happened, I got a call from Vanity Fair saying they were going to shoot Jobs, and they proposed to him that he pose with Fake Steve. Supposedly his PR woman said, "If you can find Fake Steve, we'll be there for the photo," but that didn't work out, for whatever reason. Maybe Apple is just talking a good game. But maybe Apple had a better sense of humor than I thought.