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aaron swartz lead

I met Aaron Swartz in Cambridge shortly after he’d been indicted for downloading lots of JSTOR articles on MIT’s network in 2011. My Wired colleague Ryan Singel had been writing about his story, and I’d talked a lot with my friends in academia and publishing about the problems of putting scholarship behind a paywall, but that was really the level at which I was approaching it. I was there to have brunch with friends I’d known a long time only through the internet, and I hadn’t known Aaron that way. I certainly didn’t want to use the brunch to put on my journalist hat and pepper him with questions. He was there primarily to see his partner Quinn Norton’s daughter Ada, with whom he had a special bond. The two of them spent...

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xkcd is a webcomic created by Randall Munroe, an ex-NASA robotics expert and programmer. Characters within the series are drawn as stick figures, and the subject matter typically centers around math, science, and Internet culture. The tagline on[1] read “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” All comics are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.[2]


The domain was registered on January 25th, 2003. In an interview with redhat[3], Randall explained the meaning behind the name:

“Actually the domain name came after the instant messenging screen name, which I picked late one night. Five, six, maybe seven years ago, I was tired of having names that meant something. Skywalker4, Animorph7… I wanted to pick a name that I wouldn’t get tired of. That would just always mean me. So I just went down combination of letters that weren’t taken, until I could find one that didn’t have any meaning, didn’t have any pronunciation, and didn’t seem like an obvious acronymn for anything.”

In September 2005, Munroe began to publish scanned copies of his school notebook drawings on xkcd, which became the sole focus on the website.


A character wearing a black hat often appears in the series, and Randall stated he was inspired by the character Aram from the Men in Hats webcomic in an interview with Wikinews[9]:

I started putting the man in the hat, when I just wanted to say the most absurd thing. A lot of the time, I’m in a real life situation and I think what’s the most hurtful thing, what’s the worst way this can go, and have someone do that gleefully. That’s just a recipe for comedy right there. Then I have the guy in the hat so I’d put all that on him and then say “but that’s not the main guy, he’s much nicer than that” and, and I took that, the black hat symbolizes that for me because Aram from the now ended webcomic Men in Hats also wore a hat.

Other recurring characters include a woman named Megan with short hair, a nihilist that is often paired with an existentialist wearing a beret, and a boy in a barrel. Representations of famous people frequently appear including blogger Cory Doctorow, free software advocate Richard Stallman, several Firefly cast members including Summer Glau and Nathan Fillion, and zombie versions of Richard Feynman and Marie Curie.

Inspired Activities and Submemes

The strip has inspired fans to act out certain activities depicted in the strip. Here are a few examples:
-While visiting the Yale Political Union, Richard Stallman was attacked by students dressed as ninjas.
-In the strip, Cory Doctorow is often depicted with goggles, a red cape and riding in a hot air balloon. At the 2007 EFF Pioneer Awards, he was given these items (with the exception of the hot air balloon, which was replaced with a smaller rubber balloon) to wear while accepting the award.
-YouTube has placed an Audio Preview feature on comments, possibly inspired by the strip “Listen to Yourself”.
-Alter the appearance of the “Troll Slayer” strip, which parodied 4chan’s hatred of Twilight, /b/ was changed temporarily to the “Twilight Appreciation Station”. Munroe disabled registration on his site’s forums to prevent trolls from retaliating.

Roller Coaster Chess

The strip “Chess Photo” has prompted many people to go on various amusement park rides and take pictures playing chess, checkers or other games. For more information, see main entry.

Online Community Maps

The first map of online communities was published on xkcd[4] on May 2nd, 2007. Randall based the size of each geographic area on estimated membership numbers. On October 6th, 2010, Randall published an updated map[4] with revised estimates based on volume of social activity rather than membership numbers.


As of July 20th, 2011, has an Alexa[5] ranking of 1,255, a Quantcast[6] ranking of 4,005, and a Compete[7] ranking of 2,345.


A book titled “xkcd: volume 0” with a collection of xkcd was released in September of 2009. The book was released under a Creative Commons license and published by Breadpig, a company started by Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian. According to Breadpig[7] n 6 months the book sold over 25,000 copies, and donated $52,961.78 to the Room to Read[8] charity organization.

External Links

[1] xkcd

[2] xkcd – license

[3] redhat – xkcd

[4] xkcd – Online Communities

[5] Alexa –

[6] Quantcast –

[7] Breadpig – The xkcd school in Laos is complete! Rejoice!

[8] Room to Read

[9] Wikinews – Randall Munroe, writer of xkcd, talks about the comic, politics and the internet

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