5.8 Bloggers, Come Clean

One of the most entertaining blogs in the tech field has been the “Fake Steve Jobs” commentary by author and magazine writer Daniel Lyons. His identity wasn’t known publicly during the blog’s early days. When it was finally revealed, a number of people recalled something else Lyons had written. As Anil Dash wrote on his blog in a posting called “Hypocrite or New Believer?”:

Daniel Lyons, author of the heretofore-anonymous Fake Steve Jobs blog, which comments extensively on companies in the technology industry, was also the author of Forbes’ November 2005 cover story “Attack of the Blogs”, a 3000-word screed vilifying anonymous bloggers who comment on companies in the technology industry.

In 2005, I spoke to Lyons for the article, though the comments I made about both the efforts that have been made to encourage accountability in the blogopshere, as well as the many positive benefits that businesses have accrued from blogging, were omitted from the story. My initial temptation was to mark Lyons as a hypocrite. Upon reflection, it seems there’s a more profound lesson: The benefits of blogging for one’s career or business are so profound that they were even able to persuade a dedicated detractor.

I’m going with hypocrisy. (I say that with this caveat: Lyons’s Fake Steve Jobs remains a terrific feature, often better in my view than his work at Forbes and, as of this writing, Newsweek.)

Lyons’s decision to admit who he was—after he was outed by a reporter who did sufficient legwork—was a victory for transparency in a sphere that is often more transparent than traditional media, but not always.

The online world is rife with conflicts of interest stemming from non-transparency. On blogs and many other sites where conversation among the audience is part of the mix, we often encounter so-called “sock puppets”—people posting under pseudonyms instead of their real names, and either promoting their own work or denigrating their opponents, sometimes in the crudest ways. As with people engaging in the often odious practice called “buzz marketing” —paid or otherwise rewarded to talk up products without revealing that they’re being compensated — it’s widely believed that the people getting caught are a small percentage of the ones doing it.

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