Aaron Swartz left us all a week ago. It’s strange, I only met Aaron once at the Internet Archive, and had a handful of conversations with him via email/irc … but not a day has passed since last Saturday that I haven’t thought about him, and his principled life.

I’ve been asked a few times why Aaron has been on my mind so much, and I’ve struggled to put it into words. Meanwhile, so many thoughtful things have been written about him. The arc of his life, his ideals, and abilities, charisma, and chutzpah, seem larger than life. And yet, he was just a person, a son, a friend, with people who loved him. It’s just heartbreaking.

I work as a software developer in libraryland, trying to bridge the world of information we’ve had with the world we are building on the Web. So for me, Aaron was a role model, a teacher whose lessons weren’t in textbooks or scholarly journals, but in his blog, in his code, in his talks, in his experiments with real world results. He was only 26 when he died, but he was, and remains, as Tim Berners-Lee paradoxically called him, a “wise elder”.

I wanted to write something here, but more than that I wanted to do something.

I noticed that Internet Archive created a collection devoted to online material related to Aaron, and thought I would try to collect together all the Twitter conversations that mention him. Twitter’s search is limited to the last week, so I quickly wrote a command line utility that pages through search results using their API, and writes out the complete data as line-oriented JSON. I also pulled in the tweets that mention #pdftribute since they were largely inspired by Aaron’s efforts in the open access space. I packaged up the data using BagIt and put it up at Internet Archive. Here’s the description from the bag-info.txt

On January 11, 2013 the Internet activist Aaron Swartz took his own life, and a great deal of grief, anger, and constructive thinking erupted on the Web and in Twitter. In particular the #pdftribute Twitter tag was born, in an attempt to raise awareness about Open Access issues, that Aaron did so much to futher during his life.

This package contains Twitter JSON data for two Twitter search queries that were collected in the week following Aaron’s death:

  • “Aaron Swartz” OR aaronsw
  • #pdftribute

aaronsw.json.gz contains 630,397 tweets, for the period starting with 2013-01-11 16:50:22 and ending 2013-01-18 13:50:02.

pdftribute.json.gz contains 42,277 tweets, for the period starting with Jan 13 02:42:26 and ending Jan 17 03:33:46.

In addition the URLs mentioned in the tweets found in aaronsw.tar.gz were extracted, unshortened, and then aggregated to provide a report of what people linked to. These URLs are available in aaronsw-urls.txt.gz.

It is hoped that this data will help document the Web community’s response to Aaron’s death, and life.

Below is a list of the top 50 links shared in tweets about Aaron. There were 36,506 in all.

Page Shares
RIP, Aaron Swartz - Boing Boing 11763
The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime” « Unhandled Exception 6641
Aaron Swartz commits suicide - The Tech 5539
Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. 6478
Prosecutor as bully - Lessig Blog 3738
The inspiring heroism of Aaron Swartz | Glenn Greenwald | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk 2522
Aaron Swartz Faced A More Severe Prison Term Than Killers, Slave Dealers And Bank Robbers | ThinkProgress 2367
Farewell to Aaron Swartz, an Extraordinary Hacker and Activist - EFF 2042
Internet Activist, a Creator of RSS, Is Dead at 26, Apparently a Suicide - New York Times 1927
Aaron Swartz muere por suicidio a sus 26 años 1572
Technology’s Greatest Minds Say Goodbye to Aaron Swartz 1558
Aaron Swartz a través de 5 grandes contribuciones a la red 1495
Aaron Swartz, American hero 1397
Internet Activist Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide 1330
Anonymous hacks MIT after Aaron Swartz’s suicide | Internet & Media - CNET News 1327
danah boyd | apophenia » processing the loss of Aaron Swartz 1280
Official Statement from the family and partner of Aaron Swartz - Remember Aaron Swartz 1199
depression lies | WIL WHEATON dot NET: 2.0 1164
BBC News - Aaron Swartz, internet freedom activist, dies aged 26 1143
In the Wake of Aaron Swartz’s Death, Let’s Fix Draconian Computer Crime Law - EFF 1088
Westboro Baptist Church Drops Aaron Swartz Funeral Protest After Anonymous Vows Action (VIDEO) 1079
Soup • Official Statement from the Family and Partner of… 1067
‘Aaron was killed by the government’ - Robert Swartz on his son’s death — RT 1066
#PDFTribute list of documents 1044
Internet prodigy, activist Aaron Swartz commits suicide - CNN.com 1009
Remembering Aaron Swartz | The Nation 1003
If I get hit by a truck… 991
Suicide d’Aaron Swartz, activiste à l’origine du format RSS et de Creative Commons 938
Hacker, Activist Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide | ZDNet 896
Activism “How We Stopped SOPA” by Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) 896
Muere a los 26 años el ciberactivista Aaron Swartz | Tecnología | EL PAÍS 887
10 Awful Crimes That Get You Less Prison Time Than What Aaron Swartz Faced | Alternet 868
Aaron Swartz, Coder and Activist, Dead at 26 | Threat Level | Wired.com 856
How the Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz–and Us : The New Yorker 849
https://aaronsw.jottit.com/howtoget 811
How Anonymous Got Westboro to Back Off Aaron Swartz’s Funeral - National - The Atlantic Wire 804
Muerte de Aaron Swartz: la necesidad del Open Data en el I+D 779
US court drops charges on Aaron Swartz days after his suicide — RT 772
Researchers begin posting article PDFs to twitter in #pdftribute to Aaron Swartz « Neuroconscience 745
My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved. | Quinn Said 742
The inspiring heroism of Aaron Swartz | Glenn Greenwald | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk 713
Government formally drops charges against Aaron Swartz | Ars Technica 708
Aaron Swartz’s Politics « naked capitalism 704
CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News 690
After Aaron Swartz: The Tech World Must Talk About Depression 670
JSTOR liberator 663
Internet Activist Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide 661
Anonymous tumba las webs del MIT y DOJ como tributo a Aaron Swartz 652
Anonymous Hacks MIT, Leaves Farewell Message for Aaron Swartz 647

There were 209,839 Twitter users that mentioned Aaron on Twitter in the last week. I was one of them. I wish I could’ve done more to help.