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[liberationtech] Ilya Zhitomirskiy Dies at 22; Co-Founded Diaspora* Social Network
companys at stanford.edu
Tue Nov 15 20:58:35 PST 2011
November 15, 2011
Ilya Zhitomirskiy Dies at 22; Co-Founded Diaspora* Social Network
By PAUL VITELLO, NY Times
Ilya Zhitomirskiy, a co-founder of the start-up social network Diaspora*,
which has been described as the “anti-Facebook” for its emphasis on
personal privacy and decentralized data collection, died on Saturday at his
home in San Francisco. He was 22.
The San Francisco police, in confirming his death, did not give the cause.
Friends and associates of Mr. Zhitomirskiy said there were indications of
Mr. Zhitomirskiy was a student at New York University’s Courant Institute
of Mathematical Sciences in 2010 when he and three fellow undergraduates
conceived the idea for a Web-based community that would give users, rather
than the Web site itself, control of the information they shared.
Instead of creating a central database like Facebook’s, where information
about hundreds of millions of members is stored and mined for advertising
and marketing purposes, their idea was to develop freely shared software
that would allow every member of the network to “own” his or her personal
Mr. Zhitomirskiy, an impish self-styled radical, unicyclist and competitive
ballroom dancer, was a member of the nascent liberation technology
movement, which views the conglomeration of personal information by large
corporate and government bodies as a threat to civil liberties and human
He and his partners were inspired to start their project after attending a
lecture in February 2010 by Eben Moglen, a Columbia Law School professor
and an advocate of liberation technology, about the threat to privacy and
social justice in Internet commerce.
Professor Moglen, who became acquainted with the Diaspora* founders, said
Mr. Zhitomirskiy was the most idealistic of the group.
“He was an immensely talented and intent young mathematician,” Mr. Moglen
said in an interview on Tuesday. “He had a choice between graduate school
and this project, and he chose to do the project because he wanted to do
something with his time that would make freedom.”
Ilya Alekseevich Zhitomirskiy was born on Oct. 12, 1989, in Moscow to
Alexei and Inna Zhitomirskiy. His father and his grandfather Garri
Zhitomirskiy are mathematicians. After the family moved to the United
States in 2000, Mr. Zhitomirskiy attended public schools in Massachusetts,
Louisiana and Pennsylvania, where his father found work teaching and later
In addition to his parents and grandfather, Mr. Zhitomirskiy is survived by
his grandmother Galina Fillippuk Zhitomirskiy, and a sister, Maria.
He attended college at Tulane University, the University of Maryland and
N.Y.U. He was a semester shy of graduation when he and three friends at
N.Y.U. — Maxwell Salzberg, Daniel Grippi and Raphael Sofaer — floated their
idea for what they called a “personally controlled, do-it-all, open-source
social network” on an Internet fund-raising platform called Kickstarter.
The concept for Diaspora* (the asterisk represents a seed from a dandelion
seed head) struck a chord. Though they had originally intended to raise a
modest sum, the partners received a flood of contributions, eventually
totaling $200,000, from about 6,000 donors.
They moved to San Francisco, starting a prototype of the site (
diasporafoundation.org) in the summer of 2010. The site was scheduled to
become fully operational in the next few weeks.
In a September 2010 interview in New York magazine, Mr. Zhitomirskiy said
the open platform model for Diaspora* would not make him and his partners
“There’s something deeper than making money off stuff,” he said. “Being
part of creating stuff for the universe is awesome.”
Ilya Zhitomirskiy, left, and the other founders of Diaspora*, Daniel
Grippi, Maxwell Salzberg and Raphael Sofaer.
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