Aaron Swartz, young Internet innovator, committed suicide Friday
Swartz helped create RSS, founded company that later merged with Reddit
Analyst: Swartz's biggest impact may have been his activism for Web openness
"We lost a really important person," Christopher Soghoian says
Aaron Swartz helped create the Internet.
Maybe not the Internet foundations of ARPANET and TCP/IP and Mosaic, the codes and packets and standards on which the whole thing is based. But he was a factor in fashioning some of the Web’s upper floors. With his contributions to RSS coding and the Web application framework, Swartz made some of today’s more expansive Internet possible.
But what Swartz also helped create was a philosophy of the Internet, one that remains the subject of great controversy almost 20 years into its life: the libertarian idea that information wants to be free.
“Aaron was a genius,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist and a senior policy analyst at the ACLU. “He was a technologist who was committed to open access to information, and committed to bringing about the changes he believed in.”
“Aaron was an embodiment of the Web, and a contributor to many of the aspects that made it great,” said Matt Mullenweg, who founded the blogging platform WordPress, in a statement. “When I was young and getting into technology Aaron was even younger and literally setting the standards for the Web with contributions to RSS 1.0 and Creative Commons. He inspired a generation to share online, to move to (San Francisco), to not be afraid to start things, and to break down barriers.”
Swartz died Friday of an apparent suicide in his apartment in Brooklyn, New York. He was 26.
Although Swartz’s life was not without controversy – he faced federal charges that he illegally downloaded millions of scholarly papers from MIT – his death has been met with an outpouring of tributes and grief.
A Tumblr page was set up for people to express their thoughts and condolences. Friends and commenters there described him as “inspiring,” “enthusiastic,” “a hero,” “shy,” “a great technologist” – a bright, inquisitive, creative, challenging personality who deeply affected those he touched.
“Such a brilliant, disciplined, well-spoken guy with a great sense of humor, who probably knew as much about ‘Star Wars’ mythology and trivia as he did about programming computers,” wrote a member of Chicago Force, a “Star Wars” fan club, noting the shock of club members in 1999 when they met with the budding Web developer and discovered he was just 12 years old.
“Let his life be an inspiration to us all to keep fighting, to keep building a better world, where free expression and open standards become the norm for everyone,” added Jan Zuppinger, who described himself as an “Internet Freedom Activist.”
“World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down,” said World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee in a tweet.
’I want something new, something worthwhile, something better’
Swartz was apparently committed to such activism from an early age. He was born in Chicago, the son of a software company founder, and showed both intellect and restlessness at an early age.
“My name is Aaron Swartz,” he wrote on a blog when he was a teenager, according to an entry on the Tumblr. (The actual blog post appears to be unavailable.) “I’m a 9th grader at the North Shore Country Day School. In the summer of 2000, I finally realized that school wasn’t working. I decided to do something about it. … I’m tired of outdated teaching practices where the students don’t learn anything. I’m tired of constantly being prepared for more preparation. I want something new, something worthwhile, something better.”
He would have been 13 at the time.