Aaron Swartz, who co-authored the RSS 1.0 authentication when he 14 and was an early employee of Reddit, died yesterday. The 26-year-old committed suicide in New York City, according to his uncle who spoke to The Tech. Swartz's attorney confirmed the news to The Tech, "The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true."
Cory Doctrow has a remembrance of Swartz on Boing Boing:
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.
In 2011, Swartz was indicted for illegally downloading 4.8 million journals from the online journal archive JSTOR. (Swartz sneaked into a MIT network closet to plant his laptop there.)
Doctorow wrote, "This morning, a lot of people are speculating that Aaron killed himself because he was worried about doing time. That might be so.... But Aaron was also a person who'd had problems with depression for many years. He'd written about the subject publicly, and talked about it with his friends."
Daring Fireball's John Gruber says, "Aaron was a friend and a brilliant mind. He was my only beta tester for Markdown back in 2004, and frequently offered keen feedback on my work here at DF. He had an enormous intellect — again, a brilliant mind — but also an enormous capacity for empathy. He was a great person. I’m dumbfounded and heartbroken. Good thoughts and best wishes to his family and those who were truly close to him." And Reddit users are discussing his death and here's him speaking about SOPA:
In a 2002 post on his website titled "If I get hit by a truck...", Swartz has instructions for his digital estate—"I ask that the contents of all my hard drives be made publicly available from aaronsw.com."
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone, remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt, and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
Update: According to the Post, police are investigating whether Swartz passed away after hanging himself in his Crown Heights apartment, although a cause of death hasn't officially been given yet.