It started out as an attempt to stay relevant in a fast-moving business. It wound up being a Web sensation its own creator couldn't control. At Web 2.0 Expo in New York on Friday, journalist Dan Lyons told the tale of the creation of The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, and shared his advice on how businesses can "survive the crossing" to a Web world.
In 2006, Lyons explained, he was an editor at Forbes, covering enterprise computing and seeing the disruptive effect Web technologies were having in that industry. He soon realized, "This is happening to my business, too... I saw all the business magazines laying off guys like me."
Prodded by "fear and bordeom," Lyons decided to hone his new media skills by launching an anonymous blog, parodying such CEO blogs as Jonathan Schwartz's at Sun. He chose as his protagonist the CEO of Apple, a person with a unique role in modern technology as well as, "a tiny bit of an ego."
"I am a huge Apple fan, but Apple's culture cracks me up," he said.
Very quickly, the blog caught on with hilarious but prescient observations on the players in the technology word:
On Steve Ballmer: "Sorry, Monkey Boy. I know you're dying to strap Jobso to an Aeron chair and smash it against a wall, but it ain't gonna happen. And please, no more phony baloney threats about your big patent portfolio, okay? Talk to the hand."
On his management style "You don't have to hire the best people. You can hire anyone, as long as you scare the bejesus out of them."
On IBM: "IBMers are a bit like Roman Catholic nuns. They never travel in groups of less than 20."
On his money: "Some people (cough Bono cough) think the richest 2 percent should give away their money and spread it evenly all over the world. But think about it. There's a reason why super smart people get all the money. It's because we know what to do with it."
On Microsoft Vista: "Those crazy old corporate types just can't see the point in spending money to take something that finally kinda sorta works and replacing it with something that, um, doesn't."
With the sudden attention, Lyons found himself in the center of a storm -- with an enthusiastic community responding to his posts and feeding him tips, while his colleagues were bent on unmasking his identity. By the time Fake Steve had gotten a job offer from Lyon's real boss at Forbes, Lyons decided to come clean (to Forbes), and had agreed to move his blog formally over to the Forbes site.
That's when the New York Times unmasked Fake Steve's real identity. But to Lyon's surprise, the blog continued to be a success. Readers always knew somebody was ghostwriting it, and as long as the humor, the community and the insights continued, they were fine with Lyons behind the curtain.
Lyons explained that he'd come to realize that, much like sites such as Twitter and Facebook, The Secret Diary had become a "performance space" where readers created personas that didn't exist anywhere else. Companies that are willing to share the stage with their customers, giving participants the ability to both consume and create content, can replicate the success of the Secret Diary.
The Diary spawned a book, but in the wake of Lyon's move from Forbes to Newsweek, and after Jobs' appearance at this year's World Wide Developer Conference, Lyons confided that he'd 'lost heart' and decided to suspend the blog. (Observers had noted Jobs thin appearance, and there was much speculation about his health.)
It can be a challenge to try and make lightning strike twice, though. Admitting he misses Fake Steve, Lyons discussed his new blog at Newsweek called Real Dan. Lyons ruefully explained, "The universal reaction is that it sucks."