Saturday, December 08, 2012

Preparing for Death Online - How ISPs and Social Media Companies Can Help People Plan

I'm a realist - we all die and we ought to have a few clues about how we handle the material we've written/developed online over time.

I'm maybe a little more conscious about this fact as I've been running a site called Dead People Server since 1997. This is a trivia site about celebrities, but it is a daily reminder that we all come to an end sometime. I've also had two surgeries over the last five years, and while I've recovered well from both, chronic pain, hospital visits, and putting advanced directives and living wills into effect remind you how fragile life can be.

I've been following, slightly, the "Digital Death" folks, who've been trying to remind people about the importance of being aware that "your online stuff" survives you. And Jaweek Kaleem wrote good article on Huffington Post called Death On Facebook Now Common As 'Dead Profiles' Create Vast Virtual Cemetery. Yes, the article was a little too Facebook-centric, as many of the same issues apply to other types of online sites, even Huffington Post itself.

So there are several simple additions sites like Facebook and Tumbler and Huffington Post can make to their profile software, to help remind people that their digital material will survive them - and what do they want to do about it?

  • Add an option for "my account's executor" - a name and E-mail address (or maybe multiple names and E-mail addresses) so the account owner, before they die, can assign a person (or people) the right to control their material after their death. We all die some day. Many of us will have an idea (we're old or sick), but some die in accidents, sudden death, war or natural disasters. Plan ahead.
  • Add an option for "make archive site" - it retains the site, but marks the site "archive" (for people who might quit a site while keeping their material up) or "memorial" (for people who've died - it might pin a note to the top of the site, saying how/where/when the accountowner died and keep the site open for comments from friends and relatives).
  • Add an option for "remove all accountowner content," with an option to download it by the account owner or executor if desired. Some people like their papers burned after death and this is the virtual equivalent (even if some of it still survives in archive.org).

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