Creativity 50 2013: Aaron Swartz

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Credit: Fred Benenson/ Creative Commons

When Aaron Swartz committed suicide at the age of 26, he became a martyr: for programmers and internet activists who wished for a web a little more open and a little less money-driven.

Mr. Swartz was the prodigious programmer who co-created RSS and Reddit; helped write Lawrence Lessig's Creative Commons; co-founded Demand Progress; and inspired a generation of internet activists. Even during his darkest days, when he was arrested and investigated for allegedly downloading articles from digital library JSTOR with the intention of widely distributing them, his intentions were clear: To improve online communication. 

As David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center wrote recently, Mr. Swartz "embodied what is best and hopeful about the internet: its endless information, its ethos of sharing, its joy in connecting friends and strangers, its unflinching transparency." 

Mr. Swartz's death both raised questions about the purpose of the internet and started anew the debate about mental depression and suicide. And his legacy continues: The New Yorker recently released "Strongbox," project Mr. Swartz worked on that lets the magazine receive documents, messages and tips anonymously. And Reddit, that lo-fi website that doesn't look like anything at all, has now become the go-to place for breaking news of all sorts.

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