In Memory of Phil Payne, A Google Webmaster Central Legend

Dec 19, 2012 • 8:40 am | comments (20) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under SEO & SEM Forum News

Phil PayneIt is rare where I have guest writers contribute to this site but in this case, I felt it was appropriate to have a respected friend and member of the Webmaster Central Top Contributors club pay respect to an SEO, a Webmaster and a person who spent a tremendous amount of his time helping others with their Google problems, write this post. Sasch Mayer is the author of this post but all those part of the Webmaster Central community is a part of this.

I have personally quoted Phil's words and contributors here countless times. I have learned from the man and I will deeply miss him. You can see many of his posts at the forum over here. There are more details about what happened and people paying respects to Phil at Google Webmaster Help forums.

A couple of days back, news reached the Webmaster Central forum that Phil Payne, one of our longest-standing and most respected members, had passed away suddenly. To say that this came as a shock for us is something of an understatement. All of us are stunned and grieved. As a mark of respect, Barry has graciously afforded the Webmaster Central community an opportunity to share a few words in memory of Phil's passing, so, as a fellow Google Top Contributor who had known Phil for upwards of six years, I will do my best to do this memory justice.

On occasions such as this it's customary to sanctify the deceased, to ignore his flaws, and to elevate him into sainthood with flowery speeches. But a poetic eulogy would basically be doing Phil's glorious individuality a gross injustice, and if I tried to concoct such an accolade he would, in all likelihood, return to haunt me despite his atheistic life philosophy. There is one thing I will say, however: During a career spanning almost fifty years in the IT and Internet sectors, Phil amassed a positively awe-inspiring professional knowledge-base. In fact, I think it's safe to say that by the time I first ventured into the Webmaster Central forum back in 2006, he had already forgotten considerably more than I knew at that stage.

We started our relationship, perhaps inevitably, with an argument over a woman. One of my first ever posts in the forum had inadvertently caused offense to one of the regular lady contributors (you know who you are) and Phil, in a fit of gallantry, promptly jumped to her defense in his usual haughty fashion. I barely escaped with my life on that occasion; a lesser man would surely have perished.

But that was his way; he would jump to the defense of those he respected, and he was ever-ready to argue the point on matters he felt strongly about, or on those he boasted a deep knowledge of. Phil was gruff at times, and he most definitely did not suffer fools gladly, yet he was always ready to aid those who reached the forum desperately looking for help with their websites. The fact that, despite having posted considerably less in recent years, he is still ranked sixth on the list of the all-time most active contributors in Webmaster Central is perhaps the best testament of his overall dedication to the forum and its countless users.

A firm believer in Occam's Razor, Phil would invariably use it to cut through the fog of supposition, guff, and over-analysis, often to pinpoint the root causes others failed to spot with amazing alacrity. According to his own professional experiences the simplest explanation was usually the best, and more often than not it actually was. This did, of course, lead some forum users to become insecure and challenge Phil's reasoning. To such confrontations he would usually respond with his favorite battle cry of "Do not insult my intelligence!" before cheerfully proceeding to out-logic his antagonist in short order.

Over the years, more than a few forum users also accused Phil of having some strange ideas, both about Google's wiley ways, and about Black Hat SEO in general. With hindsight, however, it would appear that more than a few of these ideas were prophetic, rather than kooky, in nature. For instance, not many will remember that Phil was among the first to identify the trend of domain farming a few years ago. He was also among the first to predict that Google would eventually take a dim view on the practice. This, once again, did lead to further 'heavy' discussions with some eggspurts professionals, along with more cries of "I don't give a flying ferdangle!" But that is, of course, another story.

What more can be said by someone such as myself, someone who interacted with him more or less daily, but who knew him solely in the virtual world? By his own account Phil was an aficionado of pub-rock concerts and a connoisseur of real ale. He was the guy you'd see sitting inside the speaker cone, pint of beer in hand, with a blissful smile on his face as he gently vibrated to the throb of the bass. But maybe it's best if I let Phil tell you about who he was, through his own biography on the Isham Research website. After all, who better to give you an insight into the glorious, knowledgeable, eclectic individual who was Phil Payne than the man himself? Just for giggles, you might also want to check out his Devil's IT Dictionary, as used by Matt Cutts.

In conclusion I can only say that Phil Payne was no more or less perfect than you or I. Ultimately we are all of us just human. However, for Webmaster Central and its community he was, in the immortal words of Chaucer: "a true, a perfect gentle-knight."

We'll miss him...

Sasch, the Webmaster Central TCs, and our resident Googlers.


With the deepest respect....

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

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