Friends, Colleagues Mourn Web Pioneer Aaron Swartz, Key Architect of Creative Commons

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Common Dreams

Friends, Colleagues Mourn Web Pioneer Aaron Swartz, Key Architect of Creative Commons

Co-founder of Reddit, who helped develop RSS, dead by suicide at age 26

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

Aaron Swartz—a pioneer of key social networking technologies, champion of internet freedoms and credited with playing a major role in bringing Creative Commons to the internet—has committed suicide at the age of 26, a lawyer for his family has confirmed.

"There is no way to express the sadness of this day," said friend, mentor, and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig. "There will be many words, eventually, to express its anger. This story will infuriate you. For now, to the co-creator of RSS, of the Creative Commons architecture, of part of Reddit, and of endless love and inspiration and friendships, rest. We are all incredibly sorry to have let you down."

According to The Tech, which first reported the story:

Computer activist Aaron H. Swartz committed suicide in New York City yesterday, Jan. 11, according to his uncle, Michael Wolf, in a comment to The Tech. Swartz was 26.

“The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true,” confirmed Swartz’ attorney, Elliot R. Peters of Kecker and Van Nest, in an email to The Tech.

Swartz was indicted in July 2011 by a federal grand jury for allegedly mass downloading documents from the JSTOR online journal archive with the intent to distribute them. He subsequently moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he then worked for Avaaz Foundation, a nonprofit “global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere.” Swartz appeared in court on Sept. 24, 2012 and pleaded not guilty.

The accomplished Swartz co-authored the now widely-used RSS 1.0 specification at age 14, was one of the three co-owners of the popular social news site Reddit, and completed a fellowship at Harvard’s Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption. In 2010, he founded DemandProgress.org, a “campaign against the Internet censorship bills SOPA/PIPA.”

Cory Doctorow, writing on Boing Boing, responded to the death of his friend by saying:

[Aaron] was active in the original Creative Commons technical team, and became very involved in technology-freedom issues. Aaron had powerful, deeply felt ideals, but he was also always an impressionable young man, someone who often found himself moved by new passions. He always seemed somehow in search of mentors, and none of those mentors ever seemed to match the impossible standards he held them (and himself) to.

This was cause for real pain and distress for Aaron, and it was the root of his really unfortunate pattern of making high-profile, public denunciations of his friends and mentors. And it's a testament to Aaron's intellect, heart, and friendship that he was always forgiven by this. Many of us "grown ups" in Aaron's life have, over the years, sat down to talk about this, and about our protective feelings for him, and to check in with one another and make sure that no one was too stung by Aaron's disappointment in us. I think we all knew that, whatever the disappointment that Aaron expressed about us, it also reflected a disappointment in himself and the world.

Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life. He was one of the early builders of Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/Conde Nast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber.

And a post on Mashable adds:

Born in 1986, Swartz has co-authored the first specification of RSS when he was 14. He also started Infogami, a service founded by Y Combinator that was later merged with social networking site Reddit.

Swartz also co-founded Demand Progress, an advocacy group that rallies people "to take action on the news that affects them — by contacting Congress and other leaders, funding pressure tactics, and spreading the word in their own communities."

In July 2011, Swartz was arrested for allegedly harvesting 4 million academic papers from the JSTOR online journal archive. He appeared in court in Sept. 2012, pleading not guilty.

A blog post from 2007 on Swartz's website reveals a possible cause for taking his own life: depression. In the post, Swartz describes his experiences with severe depression, as well as several other health issues, including migraines.

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