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$10,000: The Aaron Swartz Memorial Grants
A way to commemorate Aaron Swartz's legacy.

January 12, 2013

Topics = { Corruption + Government + Politics + Silicon Valley }

In high school, as part of my senior project, I set up a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called Think Computer Foundation. At the time, I had high hopes that Think would become a household name like Apple or Microsoft, and since large companies always seemed to have charitable organizations associated with them, it seemed appropriate (to me at least) that Think would as well. When I incorporated the Foundation, I wrote down on the charter that its goal should be helping children through technology.

Once the Foundation was established to receive donations, the substantive part of the effort was shipping fixed-up PCs to Jamaica, Brazil, and eventually the Cleveland Public Schools, which may have been the only group that actually received the shipments. After that, I went to college, and the Foundation's activity was limited. A few years later, my mother essentially took over, and began organizing activities, almost all of them free, for children and young adults with disabilities in the Cleveland area, by convincing sports teams and performing arts organizations to donate tickets. She now runs a mailing list through the Foundation with several hundred subscribers.

Starting in 2011, working on PlainSite gave me another opportunity to put the Foundation to good use, and it funded the large hard drives (costing about $400 at the time) needed to store all of Aaron Swartz's PACER information at Think's data center, plus additional government data I decided to add to the database later on. I've always been wary to spend the Foundation's money on anything because generally it seems so easy to spend donated funds without any real return on investment.

That being said, Aaron Swartz's work was very important to me, and as moving as the outpouring of grief over his death has been, the truth is that very few people paid serious attention to his work (excepting the DOJ and FBI) from the time he downloaded PACER data in 2008 until now. In fact, I am fairly certain that I can count on one hand the number of people who have spent considerable amounts of time thinking about PACER and its perverse impact on society.

That needs to change, so I'll pay to make it change. Exactly $10,000 in Aaron's name, from Think Computer Foundation, in the form of two Aaron Swartz Memorial Grants, which will work about like this (this link has been updated as of January 16, 2013).

In summary, between the two grants, I think the Foundation's money will be well spent, and I also hope that Aaron's impact will be felt even more widely than it is today.

Aaron Greenspan is the CEO of Think Computer Corporation and author of Authoritas: One Student's Harvard Admissions and the Founding of the Facebook Era. He is the creator of the FaceCash mobile payment system, ThinkLink business management system, and PlainSite legal transparency project.

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