Alex King was a friend of mine and we worked together on several projects. He was what I guess I’d have to call an Internet friend. We mostly communicated online. Before last week, I sort of thought there was a difference between Internet friends and real life friends. But when I learned that Alex had died after a long and remarkably brave and graceful bout with cancer, the feeling of loss I felt made me realize a friend is a friend.
Alex was vital member of the WordPress community. He designed the original share icon you’ve seen all over the web. Even if you’ve never heard his name, there’s a good chance you’ve interacted with his work. And I couldn’t have done much of mine without him.
A few weeks before he died, his family asked for some reflections on Alex that would be put into a scrapbook of memories for his young daughter in case he didn’t make it. I decided to focus on our working relationship. As I wrote it, I hoped it would never have to be read by anyone.
When your mom sent out a note asking for reflections about your dad, I happened to be a on a family trip in London with my wife Gina, and my kids, Herschel and Octavia. That night, we were at a restaurant that had shiny, black tables. When the couple eating dinner next to us got up to leave, a young man came over to clean the table. He rubbed it, he scrubbed it, he looked at it from every angle (including squatting down to take a look at the sheen from eye level). Each time he looked, he found a smudge and he started aggressively wiping once again. He was so determined, it was almost funny. But both my wife and I told our kids that this guy was the embodiment of a lesson we’ve always tried to pass along. Whatever you’re doing, try to do your best.
That is what I think of when I think of my interactions with your dad. For the past several years, I have been making things on the Internet. Well, I don’t really make them. I think them up, and then I need someone like your dad to help me make them a reality.
Unlike a lot of people who work in big companies, I do all of these projects as an indie. I’ve made blogs, I’ve made search engines, I’ve made novel new sites. But I couldn’t have done any of it (not nearly as well, anyway) without your dad.
It’s not just that he knows how to make stuff (or to manage others who know how). It’s that he cares about each project just as much as I do. I never felt like I was a client and he was a service provider. And that’s good, because I didn’t need a service provider. I needed a partner.
When you’re an indie developer, creator, writer or artist, the biggest inspiration you can get is for someone else to believe in and care about your project as much as you do. That’s what your dad does for me. And he’s the only person I’ve ever worked with who wants it to turn out as perfectly as I do. While other people have moved onto the next shiny, black table, your dad and me will still be rubbing and scrubbing away on the first one — just like the young man my family saw at the restaurant.
We’ve built a lot of stuff together. And I can’t remember the last time I considered making something new without checking in with your dad to get his feedback.
I remember one night, I had the idea that it would be cool to be able to send news articles from the Internet to a Kindle. Your dad thought it was cool too, and within a couple days he had built a working prototype that we could use; and within a few weeks, we had more than ten thousand people receiving content via the little tool we thought of — and that your dad made real.
One of those thousands of people was your grandmother. Maybe more than everything else, that matters to me. Whenever I build something, I always want to make sure my own mom signs up and uses it. But the fact that your grandmother has signed up for the projects that your dad and I have built shows that he feels the same way. That really means the world to me.
And maybe that’s what all of these projects are really about. You want to make something that is good enough to make your own family proud. Your dad does that all the time. His work shines. You should be very proud.