A prodigal mind, brilliant programmer and open-data activist – Aaron Swartz is sadly not around anymore.
He was found dead on Friday, January 11, in his New York apartment. Apparently he has taken his own life at the age of 26, just months before his trial over computer fraud was set to begin.
Just who was Aaron?
- At the age of 14 Aaron Swartz helped develop the Real Simple Syndication (RSS) standard, a ubiquitous tool that allows users to subscribe to online information, changing the flow of information around the world.
- By 19 Aaron had co-founded a company that would later merge with Reddit, a user-generated and a highly trafficked social news site.
- When Conde Nast purchased Reddit, Swartz received a substantial sum of money.
- He uploaded reviews of the dozens of books he read to his blog.
- Aaron worked as a progressive activist with the group Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
- He was a dedicated believer in the open-source, open-code, open-web ideology.
- Aaron has also developed the architecture for the Creative Commons licensing system.
- He founded Demand Progress, fighting to keep the internet open and free and managing to halt the implementation of the Stop Online Piracy Act early last year.
- At the time of his death Aaron was being prosecuted by the US federal government, possibly facing 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of downloading articles from the online database of scholarly work JSTOR (a digital library founded in 1995, providing full-text searches for the works of thousands of scholars).
- As a believer in an open internet Aaron began downloading JSTOR’s 4.8 million articles over the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s wireless network. After the school cut him off from wireless access, he sneaked into a network closet and plugged into the wired network. This was later discovered by MIT.
- Many of the documents contained research funded by taxpayers.
- In July of 2011, Aaron was charged by the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts with computer fraud .
- He appeared in court on Sept. 24, 2012 and pleaded not guilty.
- JSTOR said in a statement: “the case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge.”
- He moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he then worked for the Avaaz Foundation, a non-profit “global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making.”
- Swartz had been suffering from depression since 2007.
Here’s what Aaron thought about the nature of the multichannel environment we live in back in 2007: