Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013

Cory Doctorow has a warm, personal obituary for Aaron in today's boing boing. I recommend it.

I knew Aaron a little, and liked what I knew. But I didn't know him as well as Doctorow did, and I couldn't write the same kind of personal reminiscence. Aaron and I both grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. We didn't know each other at the time, probably because I was 35 years older. We were amazed to discover our common origin years after we'd separately decided to pursue some of the same causes. Several details were uncanny. For example, our parents both moved from one side of town to the same street on the other side of town. 

Aaron did pioneering work on RSS, Reddit, TheInfo.org, and the Open Library. I was a fan. He and I once talked about the possibility that he could rejuvenate my long-stalled project for a universal OA repository. The idea was not only to accept deposits from anyone, in any field or language, but also to mirror and preserve all the willing repositories in the world. He had the interest, the technical chops, the resources, and the time. But in the end he turned his attention to other projects.

In September 2008, I criticized Aaron <http://goo.gl/kaczl> for recommending illegal tactics in his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto <http://goo.gl/HKxjd>. But that didn't stop us from meeting in Cambridge (post-manifesto, pre-arrest) for a friendly coffee and catch-up. If my public criticism was a break, it didn't feel like one. We had a very enjoyable, very intense, very long conversation about our home town, open access, my repository project, and a few other geeky common interests. When he was arrested in January 2011 for mass-downloading JSTOR articles from MIT <http://goo.gl/pPkLC>, and carrying out some of the steps he urged in his manifesto, I had nothing new to say <http://goo.gl/DvYHL>. I could not join those who praised his action, and I didn't want to pile on by repeating a criticism I'd already made public. I was sad that this whip-smart, forward-thinking guy took that turn and faced prison. I'm sad now for a much larger reason.
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