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Diaspora Cofounder Ilya Zhitomirskiy’s Death Sparks Talk of Depression Among Founders

TechCrunch broke the sad news last night that one of the four cofounders of Diaspora, the open-source, pro-privacy social network that started at NYU as a Kickstarter campaign that was funded 20 times over, has died just after turning 22. The cause of death won’t be public record until the case is closed, according to the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office, which will take at least two weeks. The office has to process a toxicology report, a clerk at the medical examiner told Betabeat, which will likely take until 2012.

CNN Money is reporting the death was a suicide according to “a source close to the company.” Rumors of suicide inspired those in the startup community to speculate that the pressure of building a high-profile company that was facing struggles caused Mr. Zhitomirskiy to end his life. Diaspora recently ran out of money and had to ask donors for more and CEO Yosem Companys stepped down for personal reasons.

That speculation led to a greater discussion about the prevalence of depression among startup founders, a gig that by nature vacillates between extreme highs and lows. “The biggest risk in doing a startup is not the financial risk per se. It’s the psychological risk of knowing you really, really tried—and still failed,” one commenter on Hacker News wrote.

UPDATE: Official statement from Diaspora below.

We’re incredibly sad to say that our close friend and co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy has passed away.

Ilya was a great friend and a brilliant person, a visionary whose work for a better future online brought hope to many people.

Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with Ilya’s family as they cope with this incredibly painful loss.

Public memorial services for Ilya are tentatively planned for this Friday November 18th in San Francisco and Sunday in Philadelphia.  In life, Ilya brought people together.  In death, he would have wanted the same thing.

We’ll post further details soon when final arrangements are made.

We’ll all miss Ilya, more than we can say.
Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com