Diaspora Social Network Co-Founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy Dies

Ilya Zhitomirskiy, co-founder of Diaspora, a social network startup. Image from his memorial page at Respectance.com

Ilya Zhitomirskiy, co-founder of a new social network service called Diaspora, has died in San Francisco at the age of 22.

His death was ”a possible  suicide,” said Officer Albie Esparza of the San Francisco Police Department, in a telephone interview with ABC News. She said police were first called on Saturday night. She said the case had been referred to the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office, which might need a couple of days to finish tests and confirm what had happened.

Zhitomirskiy was one of four schoolmates from New York University who started Disaspora in 2010. They billed it as a  site that was less centralized — and more private — than social network giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Diaspora was designed to not even have its own servers — the computer banks that a centralized website uses to store users’ data. “Diaspora makes sharing clean and easy — and this goes for privacy too,” said the founders on Diaspora’s homepage. “Inherently private, Diaspora doesn’t make you wade through pages of settings and options just to keep your profile secure.”

Today, even as word of Zhitomirskiy’s death spread, Diaspora announced it was inviting users to try a new, redesigned experimental version of the service. It had set up a nonprofit foundation to solicit donations for start-up money  but had run into problems. PayPal temporarily suspended transfer of donated payments in October; Diaspora’s blog called it a “fiasco” that was finally resolved on Oct. 20.

A memorial site has been set up at Respectance.com. One visitor there wrote, “Thanks Ilya for Diaspora. You will always be remembered, missed and loved.”