RIP Chris Lightfoot – 1978 to 2007

It is with great sadness that I must report the death of Chris Lightfoot, mySociety’s first developer and a good friend to all of us. He was found by friends at his flat on February 11th. The main announcement can be read in this post on his blog.

Chris was perhaps the pre-eminent example so far of what polymath means in the Internet age. His contributions to the world are more than just a formidable legacy of computer code of the very highest quality, for mySociety and many others. They also include substantial contributions to applied statistics, geographic information systems, economics and a range of public policy issues from identity cards to speed cameras.

Everything Chris did in these fields combined an incredulity-inducing array of technical and analytical skills with a wickedly funny, savage turn of phrase. To understand what a remarkable intellectual outlier he was, simply sift through his blog and marvel at the quantity of primary research and original coding that went into it. Documenting and exploring his work would provide material for many years of research, and yet all this was accomplished by the age of 28.

Within mySociety he was involved right from the start through the development of WriteToThem, HearFromYourMP and PledgeBank, building some amazing underpinning geographic and political web services like Gaze, MaPit and DaDem. These components make all our sites work and make a raft other tools and sites possible in the future.

For the last three or four months he was working at another employer, Media Molecule four days a week, but still helped the full time staff with the petitions work. The last major thing he built for us was the system that serves up the maps for Neighbourhood Fix-It, a site which was only just soft launched before he died, but of which he was apparently fond for its WriteToThem-like habit of getting simple things done that mattered to normal people.

Building mySociety’s major sites involved mighty team efforts, something which can obscure even huge invididual talent. So perhaps the sort of work for which Chris will be be most remembered is his wonderfully individualistic, virtuoso forays into scholastic areas in which he had no formal training. He wandered into differing disciplines, made a mark, and wandered on again like a giant that had no idea he’d just trodden on a village. The political survey work he did both hugely illuminates our understanding of our own political world, whilst raising the question “how come none of the professional political analysts thought of this?” And his travel-time maps should make everyone in government wonder if they’re sitting on information which could be reused to such amazing, potentially life changing effect.

Chris’ intellect and appetite for knowledge was surpassed by only one aspect of his character: his integrity. If you’ve ever wondered why WriteToThem goes to such lengths to protect users’ data it is largely because of his rock solid belief in the dignity and social indispensibility of privacy. Chris was an energetic campaigner in this field, notably for No2ID, who have posted a tribute.

It doesn’t stretch the truth an inch to say that with his death the whole of the UK’s citizenry, not just his family, friends and colleagues, will be worse off. Rest in peace, Chris.


  1. Alastair Green

    I never met Chris but have benefited greatly from his work on sites such as A tragic loss.

  2. chris was wonderful, unconventional, irreverent, intelligent and relentless – this is an awful loss. we used to argue passionately about id cards every time we met, on occasion shouting at each other in pubs in front of bemused onlookers – we both enjoyed these encounters. i shall miss him.

  3. I never met Chris, but was inspired by the brilliant work he did here for things like Gaze and PledgeBank. Please accept our heartfelt condolences from me and everyone in the mass networking unit and IT unit at Greenpeace International.

  4. I am sorry. I am ashamed to say I had never heard of this man until now. Then I read some of his achievements and now realise what we have lost.

  5. We shared a name. I really don’t know whether we were blood-related but at least we belong to the same clan.

    He was indeed an interesting man. A good mind will always be missed.

    May he rest in peace.

  6. What a terrible tragedy. I had a number of conversations with Chris in Cambridge and remember vividly his intelligence, humor, breadth of knowledge and commitment to good causes. He was a real contributor to democracy in the information age.

  7. I’ve only just seen this – and had met Chris only the once at the meeting in Portcullis House back in November, discussing the impact of on MPs behavior. I remember a deal of passion, enthusiasm, and a good dry sense of humor – and despite the very fleeting acquaintance (were we in the pub afterwards as well?) do feel the loss of a fine individual, as well as the campaigner, coder etc.


  8. This is awful. I just surfed onto Chris’s entry on Wikipedia of all places, and thought there must be some mistake. But no. I only met Chris a couple of times — at a Linux trade show, flying the flag against DRMs; and then, after the Public Whip had shut down for a day to protest about software patents, and this (unlike almost anything else) had actually registered with some MPs, at a meeting at Portcullis House it had secured to explain the problems. A very smart, very interesting, very talented guy. Tragic to have lost him.

  9. I read Chris’s obituary in the times. I had never heard of him before but reading about the issues he was involved with made me appreciate all his work. These are dangerous and dark times and people like Chris are very difficult to find. Yet the fight for equality and justice goes on and the websites he was instrumental in creating are very useful in waging that fight. His death is truly tragic and a loss to the whole nation. But his work goes on and these same websites are his gift to the people.

  10. I feel so bad for all of you that lost a close friend,relative or Husband In Chris.I was searching for a friend that passed away a year ago when i stumbled across this site. I thought i would share a poem for everyone who is in love or who ever loved Someone

    His eyes were perfect nice and round
    When he slept he never made a sound
    I was waiting for him to come back to me
    But now im here crying out my baby
    You always wanted to rap or sing great songs
    But now all your dreams are gone
    I sit on his bed every day
    and all the time his record i play
    Im waiting to wake up from this awful dream
    But i bet we will wake up or so it seems
    I will see him in another life time i guess
    But i have never stopped the crying i confessed