- obituary - technology
Reddit co-founder, activist Aaron Swartz dead at 26
Aaron Swartz, co-creator of the social news site Reddit and an advocate for online information-sharing, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment, authorities said Saturday. Swartz was facing computer fraud charges in a trial due to start next month.
Internet activist and computer prodigy Aaron Swartz, who helped create an early version of the Web feed system RSS and later played a key role in stopping an online piracy bill in Congress, has committed suicide at age 26, authorities said on Saturday.
Police found Swartz’s body hanging in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday, according to the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner, which ruled the death a suicide.
Swartz is widely credited with being a co-author of the specifications for the Web feed format RSS 1.0, which he worked on at age 14, according to a blog post on Saturday from his friend Cory Doctorow.
RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary, is a format for delivering to users content from sites that change constantly, such as news pages and blogs.
Online tributes to Swartz have been posted at a number of top websites in the technology world.
“Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill and intelligence about people and issues,” Doctorow wrote on his blog at Boing Boing.
Swartz also played a role in building the news sharing website Reddit, but left the company after it was acquired by Wired magazine owner Conde Nast.
In 2011, he was indicted on computer fraud and other charges related to the unauthorized download of academic journal articles at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He pleaded not guilty. His trial was due to start in April.
Doctorow wrote that Swartz had “problems with depression for many years.”
Swartz himself described his struggles with dark feelings.
In an online account of his life and work, Swartz said he became “miserable” after going to work at the San Francisco offices of Wired after Reddit was acquired by Conde Nast.
“I took a long Christmas vacation,” he wrote. “I got sick. I thought of suicide. I ran from the police. And when I got back on Monday morning, I was asked to resign.”
Swartz later founded the group Demand Progress and led a successful campaign to block a bill introduced in 2011 in the U.S. House of Representatives called the Stop Online Piracy Act, which generated fierce opposition in the technological community.
The bill, which was withdrawn amid public pressure, would have allowed court orders to curb access to certain websites deemed to be engaging in illegal sharing of intellectual property.
Swartz and other activists objected on the grounds it would give the government too many broad powers to censor and squelch legitimate Web communication.
Swartz also had been a fellow at a Harvard University research lab on institutional corruption, according to his website.
Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited as the most important figure in the creation of the World Wide Web, commemorated Swartz in a Twitter post on Saturday.
“Aaron dead,” he wrote. “World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep.”