Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the social networking pioneer and Internet privacy advocate who dared to challenge Facebook and Google, died on Saturday in San Francisco.
Ilya Zhitomirskiy, 22, died Saturday after San Francisco police were summoned for a reported suicide, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said.
Ilya Zhitomirskiy was one of the founders Diaspora*, a new social networking service meant to give users more control of their information online, and sought to lure people away from bigger sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter.
Police would not release other details of his death and a medical examiner’s report could take weeks before it becomes public.
Ilya Zhitomirskiy and three friends, Daniel Grippi, Maxwell Salzberg, and Raphael Sofaer, launched a trial run of Diaspora* in 2010, which attracted the attention of The New York Times and National Public Radio and left the tech world buzzing.
The four friends were all students at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Ilya Zhitomirskiy described himself on his Twitter account as a “free culture and open web enthusiast. Now one of the four Diaspora* bros.”
Despite their desire to compete with Facebook, the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg praised the group, telling Wired last year: “I think it is cool people are trying to do it.
“I see a little of myself in them. It’s just their approach that the world could be better and saying, <<We should try to do it.>>”
Friends and fans of Ilya Zhitomirskiy have written tributes on Twitter after hearing of his death, with one posting: “Death of a young entrepreneur is a great loss to the community.”
The four friends announced their software programme in April 2010 and raised more than $200,000 for the project through the online fundraising system Kickstarter.
The project even inspired Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to donate money to the project.
In November 2010 the four students released a consumer alpha version of the programme, while still making further developments.
Diaspora* is based around privacy concerns related to centralized social networks by allowing users to set up their own servers to host content and then interact with others by sharing status updates, photographs and other data – much like Facebook.
But Diaspora* is different because sites like Facebook and Google store user data within their own networks and own whatever data users upload.
Ilya Zhitomirskiy was a hardcore computer programmer, obsessed with Internet security and maintaining privacy online.
But since he began working on Diaspora*, Ilya Zhitomirskiy began focusing on user interfaces and started thinking about how to lure “normal” users away from Facebook.
“We want to move people from websites that are not healthy to websites that are more healthy, because they’re transparent,” Ilya Zhitomirskiy told New York magazine last year.
“Even though a nontechnical person may not understand it, they’ll know there’s a community that has said, this is okay.”
Co-founder Raphael Sofaer told the New York Times last year: “In our real lives, we talk to each other.
“We don’t need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn’t that hard to do.
“All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren’t really rare things. The technology already exists.”