I am not qualified to talk about Chris Lightfoot. I have never come close to even meeting him, and I only know of him through his blog and his work on certain mySociety projects and the like. But the news of his unexpected death has made me quite sad.
As MatGB notes, if you have never heard of Chris Lightfoot, you will probably at least have used a website that he helped build. For instance, the Downing Street e-petitions website which has been making the news recently. Or WriteToThem. Or PledgeBank.
Whenever I read anything that Chris Lightfoot wrote, he always came across as incredibly clever. I didn’t always agree with him. For instance, I didn’t take his rants about Chip and Pin seriously, particularly as he acknowledged that Chip and Pin is more secure than old fashioned signatures.
However, I recognise now that he was right to be wary. We have seen the banks use it more as a mechanism for shifting the burden of fraud onto the consumer more than anything else. (Not to mention stories like this.)
I usually feel equipped to fight my corner and defend whatever I have written on this blog. The very few times that Chris Lightfoot left a comment (on my old site; his comments were on the Haloscan system, so will have disappeared into the internet black hole) were the exception. He changed my mind.
His blog was always well worth a read. I would almost always learn something from his posts which were frequently backed by a mind-boggling graph. He might not have updated his “real” blog for a long time, but I always kept my eye on his linklog. Many posts on his linklog were decent enough blog posts in their own right. There were plenty of very interesting links posted there. He was still updating it quite recently.
I also enjoyed his novel take on those online political surveys. Having two axes instead of one is kind of old news. But what he plotted on the actual axes caused people to do a double-take. But he did it on the basis of actual data. It made sense and allows us to understand the political landscape a little bit better. I was looking forward to any political surveys he might have done in the future.
From the various tributes that have been written over the past day or two by those who knew him considerably better than I did, it is clear that Chris Lightfoot was entirely selfless and helpful. He was also innovative and very clever as well as highly principled and passionate in the causes he believed in. Most importantly, he believed in the right causes.
I can’t help but wonder if the world without Chris Lightfoot is a slightly more dangerous place.
Update: Forgot to mention also that yesterday the first campaign leaflet for the Scottish elections plopped on the doormat yesterday. Every time I come across a piece of election literature I think of Chris Lightfoot’s brilliant blog post on how he decided who to vote for:
read each manifesto until you encounter something really offensive or stupid, then stop and reject that party.