By Sage Ross (Flickr: Boston Wiki Meetup) via Wikimedia Commons
Aaron Swartz is dead. His memorial service was Tuesday at a synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois. I ran into the terrible news reading Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing. Besides working with Doctorow on Creative Commons, Aaron developed the RSS program, the popular news and information site – Reddit, along with Public.Resource.Org. He co-founded Demand Progress, and served as a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Those are a few of his contributions from his 26-year-old life.
The prosecutors, legislators, regulators, MIT leaders and other mucky mucks against him surely did not anticipate the fallout from his tragic death. In a time where there is little public honor in Aaron’s and my home state of Illinois, Aaron (and his family) have been acclaimed for his fight to open access for documents and information that should be freely available via the internet.
From the Chicago Tribune By John Keilman and Sally Ho:
“He grew up in an environment where those sort of things were held in high esteem, the notion of making the world a better place,” Robert Swartz said.
That outlook became clear at 13, when he gained national acclaim for creating a do-it-yourself online encyclopedia that predated the launch of Wikipedia. It was the height of the dot-com boom, yet his site, The Info Network, was bereft of advertising, subscription fees or any other way to generate money.
“That’s not what the Internet was made for,” he told the Tribune at the time. “It was based on open standards and freedom, not ads.”
After Aaron’s freshman year in a private school, he moved on to homeschooling, supplementing his education with Lake Forest College classes. The homeschool community can be proud of him, not just for his brilliance, but for the way he lived his life expressing that genius.
The above video How We Stopped SOPA is explanation of the political activism and creativity used against an invasive regulatory bill that would cause government censorship on the internet.
Homeschoolers passionately protect our educational autonomy by visiting our represesentatives in our state and nation’s capitol. We do this to guard against our children being shut down in their learning joys and life passions. Just as Robert and Susan Swartz allowed for their son. We can relate to Aaron’s conversation he shared with a United States Senator. When Swartz asked him about the hypocrisy of the SOPA bill stifling freedom of information, he saw fire develop in the representative’s eyes, along with a raised voice: “There’s got to be laws on the internet. It’s got to be under control.” The tyrannical attitude was defeated that time. Aaron went on to say that these invasive bills will “happen again. The fire in these politicians’ eyes hasn’t gone out.”
The internet really is out of control. [He said with a mischievous smile] But if we forget that. If we let Hollywood rewrite the story so it was just big company Google who stopped the bill, if we let them persuade us we didn’t really make a difference. And we see this as someone else’s responsibility to do this work. And it’s our job to just go home and pop some popcorn and curl up on the couch to watch Transformers, well then next time they might just win.
Let’s not let that happen. ~ Aaron Swartz 1986-2013
Internet – 1 Congress – 0
From the New York Times By John Schwartz Internet Activist, a Creator of RSS, Is Dead at 26
In 2008, he took on PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, the repository for federal judicial documents.The database charges 10 cents a page for documents; activists like Carl Malamud, the founder of public.resource.org, have long argued that such documents should be free because they are produced at public expense. Joining Mr. Malamud’s efforts to make the documents public by posting legally obtained files to the Internet for free access, Mr. Swartz wrote an elegant little program to download 20 million pages of documents from free library accounts, or roughly 20 percent of the enormous database.
The government shut down the free library program, and Mr. Malamud feared that legal trouble might follow even though he felt they had violated no laws. As he recalled in a newspaper account, “I immediately saw the potential for overreaction by the courts.” He recalled telling Mr. Swartz: “You need to talk to a lawyer. I need to talk to a lawyer.”
Mr. Swartz recalled in a 2009 interview, “I had this vision of the feds crashing down the door, taking everything away.” He said he locked the deadbolt on his door, lay down on the bed for a while and then called his mother.
Aaron was a tireless supporter of the open internet and an old-school hacker. To honor his memory and his contributions to technical community, Aaron’s family and friends wanted to provide a way to share their memories that:
- uses free and open source software wherever possible
- licenses its content under the Creative Commons
- is open to the technical community to hack on and contribute to
- leverages tools that Aaron used and contributed to, like Markdown and RSS
The site itself is a work in progress; we can’t do everything ourselves. To that end, we’d like to invite other programmers to contribute to the improvement of the site on Github. Here are more features we’d like to add:
- allows for sharing and contribution to Reddit
- provide compatibility across a diverse set of web platforms
If you’d like to contribute, please fork the repo on Github and get hacking. Alternatively, you can email your memories to share them directly with Aaron’s family and friends, who will work to shift them onto the website as quickly as possible.
Aaron dead. 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.