R.I.P Dean Allen

Dean Allen, a web pioneer and good man, has passed away. I’ve been processing the news for a few days and still don’t know where to begin. Dean was a writer, who wrote the software he wrote on. His websites were crafted, designed, and typeset so well you would have visited them even if they were filled with Lorem Ipsum, and paired with his writing you were drawn into an impossibly rich world. His blog was called Textism, and among many other things it introduced me to the art of typography.

Later, he created Textpattern, without which WordPress wouldn’t exist. Later, he created Textdrive with Jason Hoffman, without which WordPress wouldn’t have found an early business model or had a home on the web. He brought a care and craft to everything he touched that inspires me to this day. As John Gruber said, “Dean strove for perfection and often achieved it.” (Aside: Making typography better on the web led John Gruber to release Smarty Pants, Dean a tool called Textile, and myself something called Texturize all within a few months of each other; John continued his work and created Markdown, I put Texturize into WP, and Dean released Textile in Textpattern.)

Years later, we became friends and shared many trips, walks, drinks, and meals together, often with Hanni and Om. (When we overlapped in Vancouver he immediately texted “I’ll show you some butt-kicking food and drink.”) His zest for life was matched with an encyclopedic knowledge of culture and voracious reading (and later podcast listening) habits. I learned so much in our time together, a web inspiration who turned for me into a real-life mensch. He was endlessly generous with his time and counsel in design, prose, and fashion. I learned the impossibly clever sentences he wrote, that you assumed were the product of a small writing crew or at least a few revisions, came annoyingly easily to him, an extension of how he actually thought and wrote and the culmination of a lifetime of telling stories and connecting to the human psyche.

Dean, who (of course) was also a great photographer, didn’t love having his own photo taken but would occasionally tolerate me when I pointed a camera at him and Om has a number of the photos on his post. There’s one that haunts me: before getting BBQ we were at his friend’s apartment in Vancouver, listening to Mingus and enjoying hand-crafted old fashioneds with antique bitters, and despite the rain we went on the roof to see the art that was visible from there. He obliged to a photo this time though and we took photos of each other individually in front of a sign that said “EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT.” It wasn’t, but it’s what I imagine Dean would say right now if he could.

When we first met, in 2006, from Jason.

14 thoughts on “R.I.P Dean Allen

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds like the world really lost a great person. After all, anyone who can inspire someone changing the face of open-source as well as act like a foodie guide of the world sounds like a real winner in my book.

    I hope your fond memories of your friendship help you through this hard time. Try to think of your very favorite memory. Every time you see a bad font. Like really bad, I’m talking Comic Sans bad, think of that memory. You’ll laugh and it will keep his spirit alive. Take care of you in the meantime.

    Sorry if I sound like a creep. Just an avid follower who likes to spread a little sunshine on the world.

  2. I remember Textpattern! I actually had a blog using Textpattern sometime in the mid-late 2000s. I even purchased a textbook about developing themes with Textpattern too. This was before I fully transitioned into WordPress.

    Very sad to hear about Dean Allen. May he rest in peace.

  3. Thanks, Matt. Even for those of us who knew him solely through Textism, his presence was so rich and compelling that his web-absence, and now his death, are felt almost as keenly as if we’d been pals. But if we’d been pals — if we’d been on that rooftop in Vancouver with you — I am confident that we’d ache all the more intensely.

  4. I’d like to echo Akma’s well written response. I don’t know that many people got to know Dean as well as you and Om did, but many of us felt close enough to feel the pain of losing a pillar of the web. Thank you for sharing Matt. Be well and take care.

  5. What sad news! I also owe a lot of long term thoughts to his writing and web work. Textism and Textpattern are examples of sharp thought and focusing on the right thing. My condolences to his family and relatives.

  6. Wow, back in 2006 I worked with a small computer shop and we always had debates about WordPress vs Textpattern. I didn’t know the community was this intertwined. Rest in peace, Dean. Sorry for your loss Matt and we will all miss him in one way or another if we didn’t know him personally.