I'm not saying this was the case for Ilya, or had any part in his death, but I know for me it would have been hard to swallow. There are many silent founders out there that gave up everything for an unrealized dream in the path to startup success and it has a real toll on psyches.
Best wishes to his family & friends.
EDIT: This appears to be a very controversial comment. The vote count seems to be oscillating up and down very rapidly. I don't want to make this out to be a discussion about Diaspora, so I won't comment further on that point. But the mental health of founders is a real issue and rarely discussed. Maybe there should be a more open discussion about this issue.
It's the psychological risk of knowing you really, really tried -- and still failed. That is the hard part, because everyone goes in with Dilbert/mass media notions of how easy it is to be a CEO or (just as bad) Social Network illusions of how easy it is to grow meteorically while fighting off lawsuits.
The truth is that it's not easy, that it takes a special and lucky person. If you fail it's really hard to realize you aren't that special. The possibly healthier (?) way of dealing is to convince yourself that it was bad luck, or the other guy cheated. Then it's not as much of a hit to the ego, to the sense of your own capabilities. But it's hard.
When I was much younger and starting my first (fundably doomed) startup, one of my cofounders liked to say, "yeah, most businesses fail, but those statistics include companies trying to sell soft drinks to Eskimos and combination Chinese food/pizza restaurants". Then we'd all chuckle, knowing that the statistics most certainly didn't capture dynamic new technology firms like ours.
No. Most companies fail. Look at the list of dead YC companies. Those were screened by a team that has specialized in doing nothing but screening founding teams and then attempting to give them every advantage their considerable and growing infrastructure and connections can give them. And they still fail.
Because that is what startups do. They fail.
The best, most talented, most experienced founders in the world would presumably be among the first to tell you that you can't read anything about your self from the simple fact that your company failed. Learn what you can, but don't ever let it grind on you.
(Some people just shouldn't be in this game, for whatever it's worth, like Matt Damon said about the no-limit players in Rounders; not because they can't, but because it's not healthy for them.)
EVERY business fails. Every single one. Some businesses somehow manage to stay in business when they run out of money and keep going on until they succeed. However, that's what businesses are up against. I think going into that armed and aware is one thing that makes success more likely.
Another lesson to take from Steve's experience: the bigger the impact your startup is likely to make, the greater the chance it will fail. That might seem quite counterintuitive at first. Certainly, if there's a market and the demand is there, then success should be forthcoming, right?
Except if the problem is unsolved, it's probably unsolved for a reason. I'm reminded of something I read (I believe it was from "Germs, Guns, and Steel", but I don't have it to reference): invention is the mother of necessity! Safe startups give people something they already want. Great startups give people something they didn't even know they needed.
But humans are dumb animals. The first three times you show them something better, they'll turn their backs. So the more important your work is, the more likely you are to fail, and fail, and fail again. It's not you, it's just human nature.
That's why he's so inspiring. He's a protagonist you can identify with, who triumphed over setbacks and flaws.
I think it would be healthier to accept that failure is normal and to rather enjoy the road to Ithaca . Life without challenges/failures would be too boring.
Its important to understand how the difference between your own thinking and society's thinking can and will affect your own happiness (usually in a negative way). Its not something many people think about but has very real consequences.
I don;t think we will ever know, but I will say that pressure to succeed and not fail is fundamentally unhealthy.
What I'm getting at is maybe it wasn't "failure" that disturbed this man but simply the pressure to succeed. I'm someone who is succeeding in business so far but I still get bad bouts of depression and feel like a failure anyway. It's not just me either, it can be anyone.
I don't know enough about this man and Diaspora to have insight into his thoughts or to know about the success or failure of the company but I haven't seen any indications from anyone here that he was distressed over failure. It could've just been the pressure of it all. Whether you've made it big or you're still the little guy in a garage that pressure is the same. It's all relative. The little guy worried about payng rent and the big guy sweats over the down payment on the mansion. Same pressure, different context.
I guess I will fail that day when I will conclude that I am too tired of trying (not really, really tried -- and still failed).
I don't believe "The truth is ... that it takes a special and lucky person".
The truth is we need one or two hands on our shoulder and someone to stand during the darkest hours and say "darkest hours are always before the sun comes". ..sad to read about Ilya Zhitomirskiy.
As a successful developer who spent years thinking "with enough time, I can solve any problem" and was just caught back by reality (efforts do not always imply success), this comment stuck a chord with me.
It definitely takes a mental fortitude and a dash of ignorance to do this stuff.
All of the most special people in history endured many failures. So while failure can teach us many things, "you're not special" is absolutely not one of them.
Not saying this is the case for him, but in the end, we're just cells.. and if we don't receive certain stimuli, science dictates we go crazy.
* Source-code full of freshman's mistakes and security exploits. Basically not-to-be-trusted quality code, released to the public for deployment.
* All money invested in the project wasted without anything to show for.
* I know absolutely nobody using diaspora, expect one person.
* This person attempted to invite me, and diaspora failed to send me the invite email. Now he cannot invite me again.
It's a laughing stock. For the parts of the internet which has even heard about it. Which is the minority of the internet. As a social network this is a failure on absolutely every aspect I can find measures for.
The goals were admirable, but goals alone wont win you any credit. You have to get there as well. Diaspora didn't and most likely wont.
Certainly, success is subjective but I think the expectations for Diaspora was to be a legit alternative to Facebook and now G+. And while it is an alternative, it's not popular enough for most people to switch over. Furthermore, Diaspora got widely criticized with regards to their funding and subsequent releases... specifically people expecting much more for the amount of investment.
Burnout is one thing but serious depression is another altogether. The pressure of starting a small local business is enough to drive a person mad. Just think about the guys being covered in TC, the widely known ones, the "stars" of the tech startup world. We all like to think they're superhuman and can conquer anything. We all like to think they're living large and wish we had what they have but really it's all relative.
This lime of work (starting a business, startup, whatever you want to call it) is the furthest thing from easy and glamorous as you can get. It's important to have a support network and to take care of yourself especially well when venturing on an endeavor like that. I am insignificant but I can relate. And you know, I bet a many others would echo that sentiment.
It's so damn terrible to see someone so young go like that. To imagine what he could've accomplished in the future and how his family, friends, and coworkers are now robbed of a terrific person is so sad it's beyond words. And make no mistake, we don't have to know someone to know they're great people. We're all great people. If you have just one relationship with a single person in your life then you're special and wonderful in someone else's eyes and you qualify as being great. I didn't know the guy, barely knew of him, but it sucks to see such a great person go.
2. Success is measured in many ways, and one of those ways is dollars. There are many different ways to get dollars.
3. Failure leads to success.
4. Diaspora got GREAT and HIGHLY SUPPORTIVE press about 2 months ago from Free Software Magazine.
5. Diaspora had substantial cash flow shortly after launching the foundation. In fact they got SO MUCH MONEY that PayPal froze their account, probably because they thought it was fraud (fraud detection is REALLY hard and false positives are cheaper than false negatives...this is IMHO the most likely interpretation).
On the contrary, Ilya was in a GREAT position. LOTS of people would have given their left testicle to be him. Now, if he couldn't handle the stress, or he had one too many shots of Vodka, that is tragic, but don't try to bring Diaspora down with him. The facts are not on your side.
tl;dr It is WAAAAY too early to be declaring Diaspora a failure.
This is one of the great overlooked points.