Angry Robot


I remember what it felt like to discover weblogs in the year 2000. The first one I stumbled upon was kottke, which I followed for some time before I knew what “weblog” meant. Then I was following some number of weblogs, and the typically short countdown to writing one took about a year.

That’s because writers of weblogs seemed worldly, curious, well-read, clever. Everything an impressionable young fella wanted to be. Some found amazing links, some penned savage quips, some bared all in crushingly personal essays, some posted pictures of their dogs.

Dean Allen did all of those things. His blog Textism was one of the best. I hung on its every word, and on the day he linked to something I wrote, which occured during a scarily long streak of unemployment featuring batches of record low self esteem, I felt in some world, by some standards, that I had made it.

Like many at this early stage, Dean had a mixture of literary talent and technical prowess. If weblogs were a cultural movement, they were made possible by a technological innovation – the rise of relatively simple personal publishing software packages for use on the internet. For publishing Textism, Dean developed his own software, Textpattern, which he positioned as easy to use for writers, and indeed it was. It has been described as “the closest thing to a beautiful CMS that I’ve ever seen.”

As much as you needed blogging software, you also needed a place that hosted your site – your own storefront from which you hawked the goods baked in your CMS. Services like Blogger would host it for you, but they were notoriously unreliable. And so it was that shortly after the official release of Textpattern, Dean started a web hosting company called – admire the consistent personal branding – Textdrive.

Tiring of dealing with venture capitalists, and eerily foreshadowing Kickstarter, he started it with a clever offer lifetime web hosting to 200 people (the “VC200”) for $200 each. This generated $40,000 that was spent on two servers.

I went for this offer, because never having to worry about hosting seemed like a great idea, but also because I was a huge fan of Textism and Textpattern, and hey, this also started with “text”. It seemed like an exciting place at first; then it was a little rocky. A few years later, Textdrive was sold to another company, Joyent, and as time went on Joyent seemed less interested in shared hosting, rather more taken with cloud computing and other buzzwords. Dean resigned from the company and then, apparently, the internet. Textism is eternally down for “retooling”.

Weblogs themselves haven’t had a great run, beset serially by war, money, and worse, social media. Once there was a nation of shopkeepers, each proudly tending to their Web Site. Now we publish and consume everything through the big malls like Facebook and Twitter, and we let them make the rules.

Last week a rather grim email was sent to lifetime hosting customers:

We’ve been analyzing customer usage of Joyent’s systems and noticed that you are one of the few customers that are still on our early products and have not migrated to our new platform, the Joyent Cloud.

For many business reasons, including infrastructure performance, service quality and manageability, these early products are nearing their End of Life. We plan to sunset these services on October 31, 2012 and we’d like to walk you through a few options.

We appreciate and value you as one of Joyent’s lifetime Shared Hosting customers. As this service is one of our earliest offerings, and has now run its course, your lifetime service will end on October 31, 2012.

“Legacy” customers like myself were outraged at this surprise “sunsetting”. As you can tell by this here post, it made me reflect bitterly on the passing of an era. I can only imagine what Dean Allen, vigorous defender of language, author – by way of example – of An Annotated Manifesto for Growth, would have said upon reading that letter.


CTO Jason Hoffman, who was, with Dean, a founder of Textdrive, did respond on the Joyent forum, speaking in actual human-speak, and sweetened the “options” a little. Then he mentioned they could be finding another company to take on the lifetime accounts.

A couple days later, Dean himself decloaked and posted

Steps are being taken to relaunch TextDrive as a separate company, run by me, with services, promises, early investment and good faith intact, running on hardware not powered by drunken late-summer wasps, with a future more dominant than a past.

Me, I’m typing this into Textpattern, and even though it stopped updating years ago, I’m still reading Textism. So as for this new thing, man, count me the fuck in.

Update a year later: see this hupdate.