인터넷 정보 유통에 혁명을 일으킨 RSS(실시간 정보 배달 기술) 개발에 참여한 천재 프로그래머 '에런 스위츠'의 자살 소식을 언론 보도를 통해 전해들었습니다.
그의 자살 소식을 기사를 통해 전해 듣기 전에는 그가 어떤 사람인지도 몰랐고, 그의 이름 조차 들어 본 일이 없습니다. 그렇지만 RSS라고 하는 기술이 인터넷 정보 유통에 끼친 지대한 영향력에 대해서는 어느 정도 알고 있었습니다.
제가 블로그에 쓴 글이 많은 사람들에게 읽힐 수 있는 것도 RSS라는 기술 덕분이고, 트위터, 페이스북 같은 소셜 네트워크 역시 RSS 기술에 기반하여 이루어진 것으로 알고 있습니다. RSS라고 하는 편리한 배포 기술이 인터넷 정보 유통의 혁명적인 변화를 일으켰다고 평가합니다.
신문 기사를 보면 RSS 기술을 '에런 스워츠' 혼자서 개발한 것은 아니지만, 고작 14살의 어린 나이에 RSS 기술 개발에 참여한 천재 프로그래머였던 것은 분명한 것 같습니다. (14살에 RSS 1.0을 만들어 낸 천재 프로그래머였다고 합니다.)
스티브 잡스나 줄리언 어산지 같은 유명인사가 아니지만, 인터넷을 통한 정보 확산과 공유의 틀을 만드는데 크게 기여하였다고 합니다. RSS 기술 개발에 참여한 것 뿐만 아니라 카피레프트 운동에 새로운 방향성으로 제시하고 정보공유 운동을 대중화한 ‘크리에이티브 커먼스 Creative Commons’의 핵심 설계자 가운데 한 명이었다고 합니다.
그뿐만 아니라 이 젊은이는 '인터넷 정보의 자유로운 유통을 실천해 온 활동가'였다고 합니다. 정확하게 그의 활동을 확인하지는 못했지만 유명 소셜 뉴스 사이트인 <레딧>을 창설하기도 하였고, 인터넷 운동 그룹인 '디맨드 프로그레스'를 창립하고 온라인 개인정보법안 제정을 막는데도 앞장섰다고 합니다. 정보 자유와 검열 반대, 공공정보 공개 및 시민참여를 끌어내기 위한 다양한 활동을 전개하였다고 합니다.
한겨레 신문 기사에 따르면 스텐퍼드대학을 1년 다니다가 그만두고 하버드대의 에드먼드 사프라 윤리센터 연구원이 되었으며, 법대 교수이자 활동가인 로런스 레식과 함께 인터넷 정보 개방운동을 벌였다고 합니다.
이 청년은 인터넷상의 자료는 무한 개방되어야 한다는 신념의 소유자였고 이를 매우 적극적으로 실천하였으며, 그 때문에 '해킹 혐의'로 재판을 받을 예정이었다고 합니다. 저 역시 그의 신념이 옳다고 생각합니다.
그는 2008년 한쪽당 10센트를 내야 내려받을 수 있는 연방재판소 자료의 무료 개방을 요구하는 '퍼블릭 리소스'운동의 일환으로 간단히 만든 프로그램을 이용해 2000만쪽을 합법적으로 내려 받은 일은 인터넷 운동의 '전설'로 통한다고 합니다.
2011년 온라인 학술 저널 도서관 격인 '제이스토어(JSTOR)에서 480만건의 논문과 서류를 내려 받은 일로 검찰에 기소되었다고 합니다. MIT가 운영하는 비영리단체인 제이스토어 측은 에런 스워츠의 기소를 원하지 않았지만, 검찰은 '절도 혐의'를 적용하여 그를 기소하였다고 합니다.
검찰측은 컴퓨터 사기 등을 포함한 그의 혐의는 35년형과 100만달러의 벌금을 받을 수도 있는 중죄라고 압박하였던 모양입니다. 스워츠의 가족들과 지지자들은 검찰의 무리한 기소가 그의 죽음을 불러왔다고 주장하는 모양입니다.
한편, 해커 집단인 '어노니머스'는 스워츠의 죽음을 추모하는 뜻을 담아 MIT 홈페이지를 해킹하는 온라인 시위를 벌였다고 합니다.
일면식도 없을 뿐더러 그의 죽음을 언론 보도를 통해 접하기 전에는 그런 인물이 있는지 조차도 몰랐지만, 그의 매일 블로그에 글을 쓰고, 사람들과 그 글을 나누어 읽고, 트위터, 페이스북 등 RSS 기술을 활용한 인터넷 정보 유통에 참여하는 사람으로서 그의 죽음에 진심으로 애도를 표합니다.
그의 삶을 잘 알지는 못하지만 그가 RSS 기술을 만든 것만으로도 인터넷 사용자들에게 애플의 '스티브 잡스' 만큼이나 중요한 인물이었다고 생각하기 때문입니다. 더군다나 그는 자신이 개발한 기술로 큰 돈을 버는 일보다 인터넷 정보의 자유로운 사용과 공유를 위해 헌신한 인물이었다고 여겨지기 때문입니다.
RSS 기술을 개발한 천재 해커 '에러 스워츠'의 죽음을 애도합니다.
Aaron Swartz, hacker wunderkind and digital activist, killed himself yesterday. He was 26. Aaron was a friend, and more than that, he was one of my heroes. No one I have known better embodied the bumper-sticker motto to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is hard to believe he is gone.
I use his work every day—twice over. Aaron helped write the RSS specification used to syndicate blog posts. He was 14. If you use a feed reader, Aaron’s work makes it work. He was also the chief—the only—beta tester on John Gruber’s Markdown tool for writing webpages using a simple plain-text syntax. He was 18. I write all of my blog posts, including this one, using Markdown, which remains a masterpiece of clean and minimalist design. I’m sorry that Jottit—a super-basic wiki using Markdown—never went anywhere, because it’s also a remarkably fun and easy-to-use tool.
Aaron didn’t play well with large institutions. He attended Stanford for a year and dropped out because he felt his classmates weren’t intellectual enough. He went through Y Combinator’s startup bootcamp and wound up on the Reddit team early enough that he was a founder in all but name. But when Reddit was bought by Conde Nast, Aaron didn’t last long. He was 20.
Instead, he directed his energy into finding things wrong with the world and fixing them. He helped found Creative Commons, making it technically and legally easy for people who want to share their work to do so. He was 16. He founded Demand Progress, a firebrand netroots lobbying group that fought for online civil liberties. He was 24. And he helped Larry Lessig launch Change Congress (now Rootstrikers), Lessig’s networked campaign to reduce the influence of money in politics. He was 22.
And, most famously, Aaron took direct, individual action to liberate America’s court documents. The federal courts use electronic filing system, called PACER. Everything is accessible to the public, but at a fee of ten cents a page. The money far exceeds the costs of running the electronic filing system; the courts are actually violating federal law by diverting the fees to cover their other expenses. Aaron believed that these public-domain documents should be genuinely public.
So when a team at Princeton developed RECAP, a browser tool for PACER users to contribute to a public archive of these documents, Aaron personally downloaded millions of filings for the archive. He did it by going to a library that had been approved for fee-free use of PACER. The officers who approved this public trial of PACER had presumably not expected that the public would actually access the documents it was entitled to access, and the trial was quickly terminated. They sicced the FBI on Aaron, too, who was more amused by the attention than anything else. He was 23.
But this informal resume badly misrepresents who Aaron was, because Aaron was also a funny, passionate, playful, thoughtful, true American original. His blog shows his agile, slightly perverse mind at work: deconstructing the underlying political0vision of the Batman trilogy, offering advice on “getting better at life.” (I like to think of Aaron’s essays as what Paul Graham should have written.) His Twitter was more of the same, just pidhier.
It was always a jy when Aaron dropped by my office or we met up for dinner. He gas interested in everything, from puzzles to programming to history, and willing to explore the implications of anything. He had the same curiosity, wit, and commitment to rigor on display in XKCD’s
What If?. He wasn’t going to follow anyone else’s path; he was going to drift and wander and live the modern bohemian 20-something life. But wherever he crossed through, people would be just a little bit happier, a little bit better at working togetheb, a little bit more optimistic about the future.
Aaron was driven by a passionate vision that the world could and should be a better place, that computers and collaboration and sharing could and should help, that he could and should do something about it. But he was hard-eyed about the world, too, he had little patience for idealism without concrete action, or for action without a meaningful theory of change.
But if Aaron dedicated his life to the cause of information freedom, it may in the end have taken his life. At the time of his suicide, Aaron was facing federal felony computer intrusion charges. He carried a laptop into an MIT wiring closet and used it to download millions of academic articles from the scholarly archive JSTOR. It was a terribly stupid thing to do. His PACER stunt was legal through-and-through; Aaron even gleefully obtained his own FBI file from the pointless investigation. But the JSTOR downloads were trouble, and he was caught red-handed going to the closet, using his “bicycle helmet like a mask to shield his face.”
MIT and JSTOR backed away from the case; they had no further beef with Aaron once he stopped. But the United States attorney’s office, perhaps still smarting from the PACER affair, or harboring a grudge over his digital activism, decided to make an example out of him. Aaron was depressed about his pending trial; the charges carried theoretical maximums of decades in prison. If that was the chief cause of his suicide, then the U.S. government has caused a great evil in the course of trying to punish a much lesser one. He was almost certainly guilty of some computer-misuse misdemeanors at least, but to press such heavy felony charges against him was a serious misuse of prosecutorial discretion.
The last time I saw Aaron in person was over dinner in Cambridge. He was late, of course. We didn’t talk about his trial, or about any of his other data liberation exploits. Instead, we talked about puzzles, and teamwork, and coding, and politics. I was up for tenure that spring, and facing the prospect that for the first time in years I would be simply free to choose my projects, without any deadlines or institutions telling me what I ought to be doing. So I asked him, in essence, what I should do with my life, because Aaron seemed to have answered that same question for himself, with greater courage, in the face of greater uncertainty, and with greater success than anyone else I knew. He was 25.
I am so, so sorry that Aaron himself didn’t see it that way. I will miss him bitterly.
Correction: Aaron downloaded millions of PACER documents before the Princeton team started work on the RECAP archive.