RIP Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz, hacker-activist extraordinaire
Aaron Swartz, hacker-activist extraordinaire

This 26 yo Internet folk hero committed suicide a few days ago on 11 Jan 2013 after struggling with a long period of depression. Apparently, it did not help that the authorities were on his heels like a blood hound because of his brushes with the law. He was facing trial and possible prison time for illegally downloading content from JSTOR, a subscription based service, at MIT.

He was a cofounder of Reddit and helped develop the RSS feed. He also came up with a prototype website for an online encyclopedia where users can contribute and edit content, even before Wikipedia came along, when he was just 13 years old. He was also part of the team that launched the Creative Commons, that simplified information sharing through copyright licences. He fought very hard to make online content available to the public, which explains his stunt at MIT. He had a firm belief in the power of mass collaboration and social networks to promote knowledge. His family released a statement upon his death – “Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life,” the statement said. “He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place.”

Here is a good article paying tribute to him from the LA times.

He has been inspiring to many people. Here is an article in which he shares quite a bit of his life and experiences, and where he gives some advice:-

  1. Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.
  2. Say yes to everything. I have a lot of trouble saying no, to an pathological degree — whether to projects or to interviews or to friends. As a result, I attempt a lot and even if most of it fails, I’ve still done something.
  3. Assume nobody else has any idea what they’re doing either. A lot of people refuse to try something because they feel they don’t know enough about it or they assume other people must have already tried everything they could have thought of. Well, few people really have any idea how to do things right and even fewer are to try new things, so usually if you give your best shot at something you’ll do pretty well.

Here are two videos of Swartz I found on Youtube:-

The first one is about him in 2007 talking about how the Internet is transforming mass media, shifting power away from the big media conglomerates into distributed communities bounded by similar interests.


The second one is his recount the story of how the Internet community at large banded together to stop SOPA, to protect the freedom of the Internet and the First Amendment right of free speech.


The world has lost someone who has made it a better place.

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