Blog Articles 96–100

Remembering John Riedl

John Riedl, my Ph.D adviser, mentor, and friend, passed away this evening after a 3-year battle with cancer. If you didn’t know already, that’s what this post was about.

The world knows John as one of the inventors of collaborative filtering (go watch the re-presentation of the original GroupLens paper he wrote with Paul Resnick and others) and a leader in the field of recommender systems, as well as an influential researcher in social computing systems broadly.

For me, he is the one who taught me how to stay sane in the oft-insane world of academia.

I met John when I was assigned to be his TA for CS2 my first semester as a Ph.D student. Two things quickly stood out about him: 1, that he knew how to run an efficient meeting, and 2, that his family was a high priority. Throughout the semester I also saw him to be an excellent and thoughtful teacher.

Grieving in the Eighth Layer

I open my chat roster and see him. His name, his smile, his year-old status message. The presence indicator, an emblem fixed for days in unaltered yellow. Away. I don’t think XMPP has a code for ‘and unlikely to return’.

I check my day’s agenda and see his shared Google calendar, filled with meetings that will be missed. Parties that will carry on, short an honored guest.

Google Drive shows me a list of documents. Some have his name under ‘Last Modified’. Or ‘Owner’. Unfinished projects that will either languish or be carried on in his absence. In his memory.

Is this what grief, what remembrance, what loss looks like today? Pain, alloyed with memory of joy and fruitful collaboration, delivered via Google? The eighth layer, weeping, prodded and salted by the rest of the stack?