TO CALL Aaron Swartz gifted would be to miss the point. As far as the internet was concerned, he was the gift. In 2001, aged just 14, he helped develop a new version of RSS feeds, which enable blog posts, articles and videos to be distributed easily across the web. A year later he was working with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the world wide web, and others on enhancing the internet through the Semantic Web, in which web-page contents would be structured so that the underlying data could be shared and reused across different online applications and endeavours. At the same time he was part of a team, composed of programmers like himself (albeit none quite as youthful), lawyers and policy wonks, that launched Creative Commons, a project that simplified information-sharing through free, easy-to-use copyright licences.
Most of this he did for little or no compensation. One exception was Reddit, though he later sounded almost contrite about the riches showered on him and his colleagues by Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue and over a dozen other prominent lifestyle magazines, which bought the popular social news site in 2006. In any case, he wasn’t a good fit for corporate life, he said, and left a few months later—or, depending on whom you talk to, was asked to leave. But the cash did let him focus on his relentless struggle to liberate data for online masses to enjoy for free.
For although programming was his first love, campaigning was his true vocation. He co-founded Demand Progress, a group that rails against internet censorship and which played a prominent role in the online campaign last year that helped to scupper proposed anti-piracy legislation supported by Hollywood film studios and other content owners. HisGuerrilla Open Access Manifesto of 2008 presaged—and perhaps inspired—recent threats by academics to shun journals that charge readers for access.
Remembering Aaron Swartz, Honoring a Pioneer & Activist
- Aaron Swartz’s father says he was ‘killed by the government’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- A moment of Silence for a Social Activist Hero-Aaron Swartz (computerinformationsystems.wordpress.com)