Co-founder of social network Diaspora dies at 22

@CNNMoneyTech November 14, 2011: 2:59 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of four co-founders of social network Diaspora, died over the weekend in San Francisco at age 22.

Zhitomirskiy committed suicide, a source close to the company told CNNMoney on Sunday.

A San Francisco Police Department officer confirmed on Monday that a police report about Zhitomirskiy's death says officers responded to the 700 block of Treat Avenue around 8:10 p.m. on Saturday. The department had received phone calls about a possible suicide.

The case was then referred to the medical examiner's office, said SFPD Officer Alvie Esparza.

"In this case it appears to be a suicide," Esparza added. "However, the medical examiner's office will make the final decision" after conducting testing.

A representative from the San Francisco Coroner's Office said that determining the cause of death is a process that "takes weeks and weeks."

Diaspora -- positioned as an open-source, decentralized alternative to Facebook -- came into public view last year. Zhitomirskiy and three other New York University students announced the project on April 24, 2010, seeking donations through microfunding site Kickstarter.

The founders surpassed their $10,000 fundraising goal in 12 days, and they raised a total of $200,000 from 6,500 donors in 39 days -- including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The Diaspora announcement was well-timed, as it launched while Facebook was dealing with bad press about its confusing privacy controls. Diaspora also raised money from high-profile venture capitalists including Fred Wilson.

Diaspora posted its source code in September 2010 and launched a commercial version of its network a few weeks later. But after that, the buzz began to fade.

A Diaspora blog post last month pleaded for more donations, but on October 19 the cofounders said "PayPal mysteriously and arbitrarily decided to freeze everyone's donations." PayPal later said it had released the funds.

Over the weekend, dozens of people commented on the news of Zhitomirskiy's death -- first reported by TechCrunch -- via a forum on startup incubator Y Combinator's site.

"Ilya was an incredible person," wrote one user. "His heart was truly driven by bringing about positive change in this world. Diaspora was only the beginning."

-- CNNMoney tech editor Stacy Cowley contributed reporting. To top of page