January 20, 2022

Internet Activist and Developer, Aaron Swartz, Dead at the Age of 26

UPDATED January 14, 3pm: Librarians Nominate Aaron Swartz for ALA’s James Madison Award

In a new post on the Free Government Information weblog titled, “We’ve nominated Aaron Swartz for the ALA James Madison award and you should too!”, James R. Jacobs (one of the blog’s co-founders), asks readers to contact ALA and support the nomination.

He writes:

Even before we learned of Aaron Swartz’s passing last friday, several colleagues and I were in the midst of writing letters nominating Aaron for the ALA James Madison Award which was established by the ALAin 1986 to “honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s “right to know” on the national level.”

We write now to ask all of our readers to also submit letters in support. The deadline for letter submission is January 16, 2013, so get a move on!

The blog post contains sample letters, where to send that lettter, and a brief bio of Aaron Swartz.

-End Update-

A huge loss.

Aaron Swartz, a highly respected Internet activist and software developer,  committed suicide yesterday in New York City.

Many learned about Swartz for the first time after he was indicted in July 2011 by the federal government on using the MIT computer system to access the JSTOR database, downloading a large archive of articles, and then intending to distribute the material.

It’s important to remember that Swartz was involved in the development of a number Internet tools and resources that many use each time they’re online and had been fighting very hard for many years and across many fronts for opening access to government and other materials.

Terms used to describe Aaron Swartz often include wunderkid and prodigy.

What follows are a few links to posts remembering Aaron Swartz by his friends and colleagues along with a couple of news reports.

Aaron Swartz in 2000

On June 23, 2000, the 13-year-old Aaron Swartz is profiled in the Chicago Tribune. He was raised in Highland Park, IL, a Chicago suburb, located about 20 miles north of the city.

“Highland Park teen is finalist in web competition” (via Chicago Tribune)

Getting “real information” to people on the World Wide Web is 13-year-old Aaron Swartz’s job. He’s tired of all the banner ads, the sponsorships and other miscellaneous “junk” hogging the screens.

“That’s not what the Internet was made for. It was based on open standards and freedom, not ads,” said Swartz of Highland Park, the youngest of 10 finalists in the annual Arsdigita Foundation Teen Web Site Contest.

Today’s News

“Aaron Swartz, Precocious Programmer and Internet Activist, Dies at 26” (via NY Times)

Aaron built surprising new things that changed the flow of information around the world,” said Susan Crawford, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York who served in the Obama administration as a technology adviser. She called Mr. Swartz “a complicated prodigy” and said “graybeards approached him with awe.”

From The Tech (MIT Student Newspaper)

The accomplished Swartz co-authored the now widely-used RSS 1.0 specification at age 14, founded Infogami which later merged with the popular social news site reddit, and completed a fellowship at Harvard’s Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption. In 2010, he founded DemandProgress.org, a “campaign against the Internet censorship bills SOPA/PIPA.”

Aaron was also the co-founder of Reddit and member of the RDFCore Working Group

Reflections by Friends and Colleagues


Here’s a 2007 Q&A Interview with Aaron Swartz that focuses on his work with the Open Library/Internet Archive.


Update: Family and Partner of Aaron Swartz Issues Statement

From the Statement:

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Update 2: JSTOR Has Issued a Statement on the Death of Aaron Swartz

From the Statement:

We are deeply saddened to hear the news about Aaron Swartz. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Aaron’s family, friends, and everyone who loved, knew, and admired him. He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit.

We have had inquiries about JSTOR’s view of this sad event given the charges against Aaron and the trial scheduled for April. The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge. At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.
A few thoughts by James R. Jacobs on the Free Government Information Blog
About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.