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Pseudonymy is Hard Work

I keep meaning to write down when these things happen… The march towards consolidation seems so obvious to me, and yet people are still confused when I suggest they can keep things separate.

Deep Throat
A few years ago now, in 2005, the world finally learned the identity of Deep Throat. He had remained pseudonymous for over 30 years. Mark Felt came forward himself when he allowed the release of his name in a Vanity Fair article by his attorney. The disclosure was on his terms. He decided to end the secrecy before he died.

This is something that I claim would be impossible in today’s interconnected and recorded world. Are there stories today that are being published where the sources are on “deep background” and the public is clamoring to know the source’s identity?

The Fake Steve Jobs
The Fake Steve Jobs had a good thing going with his blog The Diary of Fake Steve. He was continually witty and received rave reviews for his poking fun at the mystery and aura that is Apple and Steve Jobs, proper. Of course, over time, his identity was revealed by the New York Times to be Dan Lyons. And like Felt, there was a book deal shortly thereafter. The ruse lasted 14 months — much longer than expected.

“I’m stunned that it’s taken this long … I’ve been sort of waiting for this call for months.” — Lyons

He has since taken up the writing as Fake Steve again – and it’s still just as funny – but without the cloud of intrigue as to who would be so bold…

_why the lucky stiff
Yesterday, _why, a fairly well known programmer in the web2.0 space apparently deleted his online presence. This is news, regardless, but what’s more interesting is that “_why” is a pseudonym and so far, we don’t know for whom. He has deleted his accounts, his blogs, his code and for now, the community of programmers and hackers have yet to unearth his identity. The thread at ycombinator seems to be getting close – I suspect it is only a matter of hours before we get some confirmation.

John Resig posted a remarkable eulogy (his word) to _why:

At this moment, _why’s online presence appears to be no more. All of his sites and code are gone. This includes, and is not limited to:


Two conjectures are common at the moment: His account(s) were hacked and sites taken down or he simply decided to delete his online presence. I personally believe that he did this deliberately and with some amount of forethought.

Still Hidden?
What examples do we have where we still don’t know who is behind a widely-known* piece or body of work? Does it still happen? The timeframe for the ability to remain unknown is correlated with visibility, no doubt.

I’d love to keep a list somewhere…

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