Diaspora Co-Founder’s Suicide: Ilya Zhitomirskiy Was an Idealist, Loved Unicycling and Dancing

 @AmruthaGayathri
on November 16 2011 5:13 AM

Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the four co-founders of open source social networking startup Diaspora, died at his home in San Francisco over the weekend. An officer from the San Francisco Police Department said the death appeared to be a suicide, adding that the final determination would have to await an autopsy.

The police received phone calls Saturday evening, to which they responded immediately, reaching 700 Treat Ave. at 8:10 p.m., where Zhitomirskiy's roommate found him dead.  

In this case it appears to be a suicide, SFPD Officer Alvie Esparza told CNN. However, the medical examiner's office will make the final decision after conducting testing.

Local media sites have refrained from reporting further details, abiding by the requests from Zhitomirskiy's family and friends. Information regarding the suicide note left by Zhitomirskiy and the circumstances and causes leading to the 22-year-old entrepreneur's death were not revealed to the public.

Zhitomirskiy was born in the Soviet Union on Oct. 12, 1989, in a family of mathematicians. His parents immigrated to the U.S. and settled outside of Philadelphia. His father took up teaching, later diverting his interests into entrepreneurship.

Zhitomirskiy was enrolled at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in 2010, where he met his friends who would later co-found an alternative to the hugely popular Facebook.

Diaspora's co-founders conceived the idea of an open-source platform for a social networking site, gaining inspiration from a lecture by Eben Moglen, a Columbia Law School professor and an advocate of the liberatory potential of technology, about the perils of Internet commerce.

Moglen, who became close to the students, talked about Zhitomirskiy in an interview with the New York Times.

He was an immensely talented and intent young mathematician, Moglen said. 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.

He said Zhitomirskiy was the most idealistic of the four and had a radical self-styled approach to life as well as business. Apart from being a fanatic believer of technology that liberates, Zhitomirskiy was a unicyclist and a competitive ballroom dancer, his friends recalled.

Zhitomirskiy said in a 2010 interview that making money out of an Internet business was not his intention, and an open source platform for Diaspora would not make him rich. There's something deeper than making money off stuff, he said. Being part of creating stuff for the universe is awesome.

Share this article