Internet activist, programmer Aaron Swartz dead at 26

(Reuters) – Internet activist and computer prodigy Aaron Swartz, who helped create an early version of the Web feed system RSS and later played a key role in stopping an online piracy bill in Congress, has committed suicide at age 26, authorities said yesterday.

Police found Swartz’s body hanging in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday, according to the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner, which ruled the death a suicide.

Swartz is widely credited with being a co-author of the specifications for the Web feed format RSS 1.0, which he worked on at age 14, according to a blog post on Saturday from his friend Cory Doctorow.

RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary, is a format for delivering to users content from sites that change constantly, such as news pages and blogs.

Online tributes to Swartz have been posted at a number of top websites in the technology world.

“Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill and intelligence about people and issues,” Doctorow wrote on his blog at Boing Boing.

Swartz also played a role in building the news sharing website Reddit, but left the company after it was acquired by Wired magazine owner Conde Nast.

In 2011, he was indicted on computer fraud and other charges related to the unauthorized download of academic journal articles at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He pleaded not guilty. His trial was due to start in April.

Doctorow wrote that Swartz had “problems with depression for many years.”

Swartz himself described his struggles with dark feelings.

In an online account of his life and work, Swartz said he became “miserable” after going to work at the San Francisco offices of Wired after Reddit was acquired by Conde Nast.

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