Last Thursday, on my last night after working a few days in NYC, I pulled together a little meetup of a few friends at Spitzer's, a great little restaurant in the Lower East Side. On a frigid Manhattan night, we all cozied up against the bar in the warm, crowded backroom for conversation and rounds of Spaceteam over craft beer.
Fred noticed him first, sitting in the middle of a long table nearby, five people deep on either side. The place was packed and it was hard to reach him, but I waved from across the room, trying to catch his eye. No luck. He was deep in conversation, smiling and chatting. I thought he looked happy. I was wrong.
It was the first time I'd seen him in years, but I decided not to bug him, figuring I could catch up with him some other time. I made a mental note to drop him a line next time I was in NYC.
The next day, he was gone.
Watching him grow up online, he felt like the Internet's little brother. His young age betrayed a deep drive and talent, leading him to accomplish so much in so little time. It was intimidating to people twice his age.
By the time I met him at Foo Camp in 2005, I knew way too much about him. I knew about his work with RSS and Creative Commons, I'd followed his crushes and frustrations on his personal blog through his awkward college years, and I was an avid reader of his Google blog.
He was one of the first people to sign up for Upcoming.org, on the second day it was live, and occasionally sent me valuable feedback. After Upcoming was acquired, he was the first person to visit us, on our second day in the office, on November 2, 2005. The photos he took of us and the gaudy Yahoo campus were the first he ever posted to Flickr.
We sat down for dinner at the end of a long day in URL's, the Yahoo cafeteria, and talked about supertasters and the web. He struck me as someone who was curious, brave, idealistic, and occasionally immature — the kind of person who gets shit done.
We'd talked online occasionally, but it'd been years since I'd seen him last as he went on to change the world — merging Infogami with Reddit, liberating the PACER and Library of Congress datasets, starting Open Library and Demand Progress, and helping to crush SOPA. And, yes, busting into an MIT closet to download millions of academic papers.
Yep, he got shit done.
I never got a chance to say goodbye, but my last glimpse is how I'll remember him. The center of a modern-day Last Supper, holding court over grilled cheese sandwiches in a Lower East Side bar, surrounded by people who loved him.