It started, for me—Bloke—with a cryptic email from Dean a short while ago, referring to the domain credentials for textpattern.com:

“I’m not well and wanted to make sure you had them no matter what came to pass.”

The tone was ominous and, mere days later, news filtered through that it was fatal.

Like many, I suspect, I read a couple of the early Toasts to Dean and stuck my digital fingers in my ears, refusing to believe that he could be gone. That maybe he’d surface with a cheery quip along the Mark Twain lines: “Rumours of my demise have been exaggerated”. Then I read the piece by his friend Om Malik and it sank in: Dean, creator of Textpattern, lover of the written word and typography, was no more.

Similarly, like many, I’d never met the guy. I did try when he visited London in 2013, offering to hop on a train for the three-hour journey and meet up in the capital, even if only for a single drink. His time in the city was, sadly, short enough that he said a meeting would not be possible before he headed out to another part of the UK. I wonder if I should have been more insistent, likely the closest I’d ever been geographically to the man who set me on the path I’ve trodden since 2006. But I respected his decision; his privacy.

And that’s what is the most fascinating thing about him. Fiercely outspoken yet strangely private. You get a curious sense that you know everything about his life through his blog and writing projects, yet have only scratched the surface of what represented the real Dean.

His ideals of course live on in Textpattern. The notion that you should Just Write and everything else should be there to support that endeavour is still at the heart of the software I’ve been lucky enough to be part of for over a decade. I intend to keep it that way, not through any altruistic need to maintain Dean’s legacy, but because it’s the right thing to do and fills a niche.

Textpattern is a writers’ tool first and a CMS second; to get information ‘out there’ as quickly as possible with the minimum of fuss. It’s not trying to be everything to everybody, it’s for lovers of words, paragraphs, even individual letters on the page. Lovers of the craft of presenting information for others to consume. That’s what sets it apart from pretty much everything else.

Without Dean I wouldn’t have learned PHP when I did. Without Dean, I wouldn’t have been part of this community and had the opportunity to meet and learn from many people of varying disciplines, all brought together by the software he created at the turn of the millennium. Without Dean, the world wouldn’t have Textile; probably wouldn’t have Markdown or WordPress in their current forms either. That they exist has enabled millions, including me, to express their thoughts and ideas on the Internet, and we’re all better off for it.

In short, without Dean the world would be very different. I’d certainly be very different, and I suspect that’s the same for many people—both those who did and didn’t know him personally. Certainly the number of people offering memories, tales of meetings, anecdotes and hope for the future aren’t doing so out of some self-gratifying need to say something because he’s dead. It’s because he touched so many people’s lives in so many different ways.

And for someone who spent a large portion of the last decade in a self-imposed exile, that’s one hell of an achievement.

Dean Allen at MoMA, New York, 1987. — Photograph courtesy of Kathy Slade.
Dean Allen in Vancouver, circa 2006. — Photograph courtesy of Matt Mullenweg.