The unmasking of Fake Steve Jobs

Soon after Valleywag began digging into the identity of Silicon Valley's most mysterious author — the anonymous satirist behind Fake Steve Jobs, a spoof diary of the narcissistic Apple founder — a plaintive email arrived. "I understand why it's fun to wonder about who I am. But I'm writing to ask you to back off. Here's why. If people know who's dong the blog, it kind of ruins the fun for everyone. Not just for me but for all the readers." It's true: the authorship of the phony online diary has provided one of Silicon Valley's most amusing guessing games. Suspects have included technology writers such as Mark Stephens, who writes as Robert Cringeley, Apple insiders, and, ridiculously, Steve Jobs himself. The speculation has been as entertaining, to Silicon Valley, as was, to the Beltway punditocracy, the unmasking of the anonymous author of Primary Colors. But, all good mysteries need a conclusion; Valleywag, selfishly, would rather provide it, now, rather than wait at the mercy of the author's publishing schedule. The identity of Fake Steve Jobs is obvious, anyway. If you really don't want to know, stop reading NOW.

Before we expose the Apple chief executive's cheeky online impersonator, let's recap the evidence. First, the linguistic clues. The author's either British, or pretending to be British.

  • Fake Steve Jobs uses the word "chav", modern English slang for a lower-class man with no taste.
  • A BBC journalist is referred to as a Nigel,
  • Critics of Rupert Murdoch are described as "whingeing", rather than bitching, which would be the equivalent American English.
  • The nickname for London's Guardian newspaper, the Grauniad, is one that a long-time reader of Private Eye, a local gossip sheet, would use.
  • An American would write of a kid's soccer game, not a kid's soccer match.
  • Way too many references to British press, personalities, products and sterotypes: Tony Blair; the Inquirer; British stewardesses; a clip of Ricky Gervais; UK audio equipment.
  • Fake Steve Jobs' public face, for book and sponsorship deals, is Emma Parry, a British agent based in New York.

Second, the writer works for Wired magazine. It's not so much that Wired sponsors the site: that deal was offered to Weblogs Inc, and Gawker Media, among others. But Evan Hansen, editor-in-chief of Wired News, says he's been sworn to secrecy about the mystery writer, which would be most easily explained if the author was a colleague, who had confided in him. And both Wired and the Fake Steve Jobs site have not been able to resist writing about eachother, sometimes insultingly, as if this were one big insider joke. The cross-references also allow Wired writers to claim that this was a mystery hidden in plain sight; that there was no serious intent to deceive readers, or their bosses, or Apple.

Third, the author obviously knows Apple, and Steve Jobs, extremely well. The writing style was never designed to mimic Jobs' words; it's far too witty, and scurrillous. But the author captures the self-regard of Apple's legendarily arrogant founder. And he understands the man's strengths, as a product visioniary, and weaknesses, as an individual. Jobs is no passing acquaintance of this writer; his understanding could only come from obsession.

The unmasking of Fake Steve Jobs

So, enough of the preamble. The identity of Fake Steve is obvious. (We thought, for a few hours, that the anonymous writer was Dylan Tweney, because he joined Wired at about the time that the magazine began its sponsorship of the Steve Jobs diary. He may have helped, but he's denied having the lead role. And it's conceivable other writers, such as Rob Beschizza of Wired, have helped.) Our bet: it's Leander Kahney, managing editor of Wired.com, and author of the Cult of Mac site. Kahney is a fabulously talented writer; he's fearless; a Londoner; a newspaper junkie who missed, badly, the British press; an audio nut; he has four kids, so plenty of experience with soccer matches; and he's a Mac fanatic. (See his Amazon author profile.)

And, the clincher: he has a new book coming out in early 2008: 'Chairman Steve's Little White Book'. For the book — subtitled 'The Leadership Secrets of Steve Jobs' — the anonymous blog, and the hoopla around the author's identity, would be a great marketing device. Sorry to mess with the scheduled unveiling. But, hey, Leander, you love the British-style press. This, as you know, is how it works.