Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old who helped build such internet stalwarts as Reddit and Creative Commons, committed suicide in New York yesterday. The saddening news was confirmed by MIT newspaper The Tech, which received word from both Swartz’s uncle and attorney.
In addition to his work with Reddit, Swartz also co-authored the very first RSS 1.0 specification when he was just fourteen years old and was also involved as an activist through his work as founder of Demand Progress.
Back in 2011 he was charged with stealing some 4.8 million documents from the online digital library JSTOR, which then just a few days ago announced that it would be offering limited free access to its library.
I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSS specification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay with Lisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him and assured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are…
I introduced him to Larry Lessig, and he 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….
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.
Cory Doctrow, Boing Boing
Aaron’s mother has released a short statement on Hacker News, saying,
“Aaron has been depressed about his case / upcoming trial, but we had no idea what he was going through was this painful.”