Remembering Alex King

One of the original WordPress developers, Alex King, has passed from cancer at far too young an age. Alex actually got involved with b2 in 2002 and was active in the forums and the “hacks” community there.

Alex had a background as a designer before he learned development, and I think that really came through as he was one of those rare people who thought about the design and usability of his code, the opposite of most development that drifts toward entropy and complexity. One of my favorite things about Alex was how darn tasteful he was. He would think about every aspect of something he built, every place someone could click, every path they could go down, and gave a thoughtfulness to these paths that I still admire and envy today.

As an example look at his project page (essentially a category archive) for the Post Formats Admin UI, isn’t that clever and intuitive how the posts connect together, and when more time passes in the thread it’s shown as a break. It’s classic Alex: something simple and thoughtful that in hindsight is so gobsmackingly obvious you wonder why everything doesn’t work that way, but you never would have imagined it beforehand. And Alex wouldn’t just imagine it and do it for himself, he released his best work as open source, as a gift to the community and the world, over and over and over again.

Back when WordPress was getting started Alex was a celebrity of the b2 world, his hacks (plugins before plugins) were some of the coolest ones around. We had a ton of overlapping interests in web standards, photography, development, and gadgets so we frequently read and commented on each other’s blogs. I would never miss a post on his site, and that’s back when we were both doing one or more posts a day. To get a sense of Alex it’s worth exploring his blog — he was a clear thinker and therefore a clear writer. The straightforward nature Alex wrote with was something I always admired about him.

We discussed WordPress early on, Alex signed up to help with what later became the plugin directory, and his CSS competition (look at those prizes! and notice it’s all GPL) was hugely influential on the path to themes, and he officially became a contributing developer in August of 2003.

The list of what Alex was one of the first to do in the WordPress community is long, and in hindsight seems gobsmackingly obvious, which is the sign of innovation. I smile when I think of how he moved from the Bay area to Denver before it was cool, or his love of scare quotes. Once there was something going on in WordPress and he called me to talk about it, I was so surprised, he said the number was right on my contact page (and it was) but even though it had been there for years no one had ever called it before, but that was just the type of person Alex was, always reaching out and connecting.

Adam Tow, myself, Barry Abrahamson, Alex King; Photo from Adam Tow’s post.

I’m not sure how to include this next part: I couldn’t write last night — I was too tired. After falling asleep I had one of those super vivid dreams that you can’t tell are dreams. There had been some sort of mix-up on Twitter and Alex was still alive, I visited Colorado with my sister and saw him surrounded by family at a picnic table, all the rooms were taken so they put me on a floor mattress where I slept. Tons of his friends were around and we took pictures together, he was excited about the better front camera on the 6s+. (Alex understood mobile all the way back to the Treo days.) It was all very ordinary and in a group setting, until we decided to walk alongside a small highway, past some grain silos, to meet the group at a bar. The walk was just the two of us and we talked and laughed about the big mix-up and he asked about this post, what was going to be in it. He got most excited and emphatic with the part about him being a developer with great taste, and a clear writer William Zinsser would be proud of, so I like to think that those were two things he was proud of. The overwhelming emotion I remember was joy. Waking up was disconcerting, part of me wants to believe part of Alex’s spirit was there, where another more logical part thinks my mind was just going through the denial stage of grief. Regardless I know that Alex will stay in the minds of people who knew him for many years to come.

Code that Alex wrote still runs billions of times a day across millions of websites, and long after that code evolves or gets refactored the ideas and philosophy he embedded in WordPress will continue to be part of who we are. Alex believed so deeply in open source, and was one of the few people from a design background who did. (Every time you see the share icon on the web or in Android you should think of him.) I like the idea that part of his work will continue in software for decades to come, but I’d rather have him here, thinking outside the box and challenging us to do better, to be more obvious, and work harder for our users. He never gave up.

27 thoughts on “Remembering Alex King

  1. Thanks for this post Matt. I never met him in person but we did talk on the phone. He offered some great advice at the time. In general, Alex was so smart and generous. His blog is an impressive archive of his thoughts. He has inspired me to share more. I think many can learn from his “open source spirit” in everything he did. He even logged his golf scores on his blog! He was totally transparent and that’s a brave way to be! But I think it’s the right way to be too. This is a sad day. But he did leave behind a tremendous legacy with his work and words.

  2. I had some communication with Alex in the very early days of WordPress. I don’t remember what it was, probably me needing help with a plugin. From that small communication I got the feeling that he was a quality person of great integrity.

    I didn’t know he was sick and I’m very sorry to hear of his passing.

  3. Thanks for sharing Matt – Alex touched many lives including my own and will be missed dearly. The part about your dream – I’ve had a vivid dream before after someone’s passing. Even if it’s not logical, believing that Alex’s spirit was with you is a lovely thought. Hold on to that feeling of joy. hugs <3

  4. I was posting in the All About WordPress group on Facebook about Post Status’s article on Alex, when I saw your post.

    He’s done a lot for the WordPress community. I’ve seen it time and time again. His work is astounding! He’s one of those guys that if you hadn’t been sold on the give back to the community thing, and the GPL, his work would persuade you. It did for me.

    For me, he inspired me to get into developing. One of his older plugins, b2 grins (for b2 cafelog) which became wp grins, had also inspired me to make pixel emoticon sets (nearly 40 different sets.) Furthermore, he was one of the ones that made the decision to move from b2 cafelog to WordPress years ago very easy… instead of seeking out a different platform.

    He will be greatly missed.

  5. Alex was an amazing man, an inspiration to many people, and a thoroughly honorable and good person. I will miss his enthusiasm and the alacrity that he brought to even the most mundane of tasks. Alex had a rare ability always to have a vision for the best possibilities.

    I always found Alex rare in business. He was straightforward, trustworthy, brought no ego to the table, and was always sensitive and empathic in any situation. He had a keen eye for design and what “looked right”, and paired that with a sharp intellect. He worked hard, and had an innate ability to nudge projects through to their successful conclusion.

    Earlier this spring we both said how much we’d love to work on a project together again—I am sad that will not now happen.

    My thoughts are with his wife and daughter at this painful time.

    Goodbye Alex. Thank you.

  6. I found Alex’s site early on in my experimenting with WordPress and it was invaluable. Years ago he offered some help with one of his plugins. Recently I helped guide some publishers to Crowd Favorite for a site redesign. He left behind lots of amazing contributions. Thanks Alex.

  7. I heard this from my blogger friend. We Chinese bloggers decided write some posts for Mr. Alex King. Thanks Mr. Alex King for all contribution on WordPress. Hope his family would going well.

  8. These few days, I was thinking about him, when I read his post about cancer and community pool about his contributions that he wanted people to contribute to, for the sake of his kids. I scanned his twitter and blog, no post after, I wanted to write to wptavern to check on him.
    His themes and plugins were how I knew him. He was a great designer, the carrington text, carrington mobile, long before responsive design spread like wildfire, his own personal blog with such clean interface. So long, Alex R.I.P.

  9. Growing up, I seemed to be following a path already lit for me by another “Alex K” on the web, Alex King. The fact that we shared similar names, and that he had found such success in the tech community made me feel like I had a place where I could belong. He was an inspiration and had accomplished things I only could dream of. Even though I never met or talked with him, he had a true impact on my life. My condolences to Alex’s family and friends.

  10. I didn’t know Alex King well, but he caught my attention ten years ago when he gave a nod to some things I was writing about on my blog. Until that referral, I had never heard of Alex King. But it didn’t take long for me to be impressed by his work. In 2007, I wrote a blog post titled, “Alex King does it better” where I actually requested people visit his site and learn from the King before they continued reading my articles.

    Matt, thanks for the writeup. Even for those that didn’t know Alex King personally, it’s still a significant loss for those of us into content management. Why? Because Alex showed us the way by doing it better than most of us…

  11. The dream may have been a product of your subconscious. Or, it may have been more. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. Treasure it, find comfort in it.

    “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    Peace Matt.

  12. I met Alex once at WordCamp and now I’m glad I had the chance to thank him for his contributions to the community. Thanks for sharing your dream — I read this post a couple days ago — I keep thinking of that dream in relation to all the other lives struggling with cancer that have touched me recently.