The son of a software company owner, Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) grew up immersed in computer programming. At 13, he won the ArtsDigita Prize, awarded to websites deemed most useful and educational. At just 14, he was part of the team that developed RSS, the now-ubiquitous web syndication tool. Shortly after, he worked for W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, where he authored RFC 3870, a program for web resource management that is part of the complex framework of the web that very few understand (and less appreciate). After trying Stanford University for a year, Swartz left to start the wiki-site called Infogami. It later merged with Reddit, and Swartz elevated Reddit to one of the world’s most popular social news sites, with millions of visitors every month. Reddit has also become well-known for being a platform to quickly raise awareness (and funds) for important causes around the world.
Swartz was angered by the steady destruction of online freedoms, and focused his attention on fighting back. His work made him a champion of online freedom. He helped defeat the SOPA bill, and through his online hacks and activities, became the face of the “open access” movement. However, this activity got him into hot water. After downloading articles from JSTOR to the point of crashing their servers, Swartz was arrested and put on trial. The allegations were silly, The New York Times reporting “A respected Harvard researcher who also is an Internet folk hero has been arrested in Boston on charges related to computer hacking, which are based on allegations that he downloaded articles that he was entitled to get free.” The prosecutors wanted to make Swartz an example, and pushed unjustly harsh penalties including up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Tragically, unable to cope with the legal onslaught, Swartz took his own life last week; found dead in his Brooklyn apartment at the young age of 26.
Words of the Week
A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
– Edward R. Murrow