Obit

Chris Lightfoot, in The Times, a few days ago.

Also, over the fold, the text of a recent article from the Morning Star.

Morning Star, March 17, 2007 Saturday

Feature – Wired – A true net activist

James Eagle surveys the life and works of the pioneering British internet activist Chris Lightfoot

BYLINE: James Eagle
LENGTH: 819 words

It’s time to take a break from the normal run of web affairs and pay tribute to a ground-breaking British internet activist, Chris Lightfoot, who died unexpectedly last month at the age of 28.

It’s unlikely that you’ll have heard of Lightfoot, but, if you use the net for political campaigning, the odds are good that you’ll be familiar with his work.

Lightfoot is remembered by those he worked with as an “extraordinary talent” with a “passionate commitment to privacy and civil liberties” www.no2id.net/news/newsblog/?p=547, possessing an “incredulity-inducing array of technical and analytical skills,” whose “formidable legacy” would “provide material for many years of research” www.mysociety.org/2007/03/05/rip-chris-lightfoot-1978-to-2007.

This isn’t a personal tribute. I never met him and now, alas, never will. But a quick run through some of his work online should be sufficient to give an idea of his contribution to British internet campaigning.

Lightfoot was the “system administrator, campaign stalwart and developer par excellence” for the anti-ID cards campaign NO2ID www.no2id.net, whose website should be a model for any aspiring campaign group.

And he was at the heart of MySociety www.mysociety.org, a charity dedicated to helping ordinary people and the public and voluntary sectors use the internet for civic and political campaigns.

MySociety is the organisation behind Write To Them www.writetothem.com and They Work For You www.theyworkforyou.com, a pair of tools to help people contact their politicians and keep an eye on what they’re up to.

As well as encouraging MPs to talk to their constituents with Hear From Your MP www.hearfromyourmp.com, MySociety is also behind PledgeBank www.pledgebank.com, on which you can pledge to do just about anything – demonstrate, boycott, donate, go vegetarian, vote a certain way – if a number of other people agree to do the same.

The original NO2ID pledge www.pledgebank.com/refuse, which saw over 11,000 people agree to refuse to register for an ID card and to pay £10 into a legal defence fund, is still one of the most heavily subscribed pledges that the site’s hosted.

Then there was MySociety’s most recent project, Neighbourhood Fix-It www.neighbourhoodfixit.com, which allows people to report local problems such as graffiti, rubbish, damaged roads to their local council. Less overtly political than the other sites, perhaps, but fully in line with Lightfoot’s philosophy of, as MySociety puts it, “getting simple things done that mattered to normal people.”

All of these sites are built on what MySociety calls “some amazing underpinning geographic and political web services” – much of them Lightfoot’s work.

He seems to have had a knack for analysing and recombining information in fascinating ways – see his Political Survey 2005 www.politicalsurvey2005.com, for instance, which determines your political affiliations and tells you how you match up with the rest of the country.

A browse through his blog www.ex-parrot.com/~chris/wwwitter is the closest that we can now get to a man whose colleagues speak of him in such glowing terms.

But, as NO2ID says, “his work will stand as a memorial to his integrity, talent and principles for many years to come.”

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