I woke up to the news this morning that Aaron Swartz, the internet activist who wrote key parts of early RSS code, helped establish Reddit, opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act, and pushed hard for open access to information like U.S. case law and academic journals, eventually facing serious jail time for the latter, had committed suicide on Friday at 26. Aaron’s work touched on issues that this blog covered, and I would have wanted to recognize that in any case. But he was also a member of the commenting community here, and a friend of the blog in other ways, and I wanted to remember him for that, too.
I knew Aaron as someone who was interested in pop culture before I was aware of just how important he was as an internet architect and activist. He’d show up in comment threads to make a good point, or poke me, sometimes hard, on Twitter. We talked about circumstances in which I should use spoiler alerts — those of you who want me to warn you when I’m talking about the plot points deep in a movie that’s been out for years, he was an advocate for your cause. In November, he pinged me after he’d seen Wreck-It Ralph with some observations about the movie’s approach to eminent domain, and seemed surprised when I asked him if he’d be willing to write the post on it. Readers who came to one very happy meet-up for the blog in New York may remember his presence there.
What I’m trying to say is that Aaron’s mind was a wonderful thing to get to encounter, whether he was applying it to technology, the arena where most people know him and where he had much of his professional impact, or popular culture. Cory Doctrow’s remembrance of him includes ideas Aaron sent him about designing a next-generation electioneering tool as part of Doctrow’s thinking about one of his books, which I felt privileged to read this morning. I’m so sorry for Aaron’s loss.