Death and the Internet

Something has been bothering me for the last few months. I keep getting notices for me to “reconnect with him/her” or “help make ______'s experience better” from facebook. While this is not exactly a bad thing in general, it makes some uncomfortable/inappropriate suggestions due to friends having passed away.

Things brings me to a bigger question. In this digital world we live in, how should we deal with death and the internet?

As designers, I feel that we can always make something better. So in the interest of discussion, what would be the best way to deal with unfortunate circumstance of life?

It is really strange when people you are connected to via Facebook pass away, their pages become almost a shrine to them.

I would imagine that there is some way to have the “reconnect with…” feature removed for deceased persons on Facebook - maybe someone would have to email facebook to do it.

My cousin was a graphic designer who passed away a couple of years ago and his friends put together an online site for him. It has his work and tributes to him. I thought it was a very modern way to respect him

Facebook has memorial pages. They basically convert the old page. I think they started doing it after the Virginia Tech shootings.

Virtual Memorials is one that’s been around awhile and it seems many funeral homes are starting this type of thing on their websites. They also have links to support groups and other resources like that.

This hits upon something I’ve always wondered about: If something were to happen to me, how would all my friends be informed? Like so many people, I have different groups of friends all over the planet and there isn’t any one person in my life that is connected with all of them. My family would obviously know, but what about a friend I have in Australia who has not connection to anyone else I know?

I suppose that is one of the things that is a definite strength of the social networking sites such as Facebook - it can cover just about every nook and cranny of my contact network. But before these sites came online, how did the news get around to all relevent people? What about email accounts - if someone passes, would, say, hotmail close the account and initiate an autoreply of some kind?

Now I wonder about this - whose authorization does Facebook or whoever need to convert somebody’s profile page into a “memorial”?

Very interesting topic - I am keenly interested to hear what others thoughts are and maybe even get some of my questions answered…

here is the form you have to fill out for facebook.

This is a really interesting topic… I’ve never seen anything like it ever brought up on this forum. For online memorials or any memorials

I wonder if Lowey, Eames, Saarinen, etc… have something special for their memorials. There are so many exceptional designers that have passed away, a non-descript stone would seriously not do them justice

Dont those guys have enough memorials/monuments already :slight_smile:?

hahah, your right! they’d never outdo those…

It’s an interesting issue… if you have a domain, how long should your beneficiaries keep up the URL? email? I actually heard a podcast on CBC radio Spark a while back about the same topic…I’ll see if I can dig up a link.

On the flipside, I’ve always wondered when is the right time to introduce a new person to the web and all that it can do? I have no plans of having kids anytime soon, but love the idea of setting up an email and website for the kid as soon as they are born that can first serve as a place to hold baby photos, then birthday cards, then later in life be the catch all domain for all things digital and communication? Wouldn’t it be great to have a domain/email address for life? How far after life should this be preserved?

I’m a big history buff and wonder how new media will adopt the temporal in-permanance of web traffic to the collection of history… wouldn’t it be great in 50 years for your grandchild to view your blog or content? how does digital photos and collections of content move or time? I’m sure we’ve all had a site in one place or another only to move on… is the Internet Way Back Machine the only repository of web life that exits when so much of have so much online? What if Facebook or Gmail cease to exist in 10 years? 5? tomorrow?

Some good questions this poses, IMHO.


While the idea of a memorial is good. I think this is just one of the many ways of dealing with the loss of someone.

I am more interested in how we deal with all of the stuff we have in our online identities.

For example:
I have the following social networking accounts: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Coroflot, LinkedIn, Upworld, Deviant Art. Along with these sites I am involved with a few forums. Not only is there the social aspect of my online life, but I do almost all banking, shopping etc online. I have my own website that I am working on, I sell stuff on eBay and Etsy. There is just so much stuff online that defines who you are.

So when the day comes for my life to end what will happen to all of this stuff? How will companies know I am no longer alive? What happens to these accounts?

It almost feels like there should be some sort of business/organization that will take care of all of this once a person passes on.

On the flipside, I’ve always wondered when is the right time to introduce a new person to the web and all that it can do? I have no plans of having kids anytime soon, but love the idea of setting up an email and website for the kid as soon as they are born that can first serve as a place to hold baby photos, then birthday cards, then later in life be the catch all domain for all things digital and communication? Wouldn’t it be great to have a domain/email address for life? How far after life should this be preserved?

That’s a really cool idea! Great idea for a start-up.
There’s quite a few start-up’s out there trying to bring all the social media sites together in one place, though I’m yet to see one that’s caught on, even Google have taken a stab at it with Google Profles. Facebook Connect seems to be the most successful concept I’ve come across so far that allows you to log in to other sites with your FB account. Though I love the idea of securing users the moment they’re born and creating a product that grows with you. Ever considered entering the web start-up world rkuchinsky? :stuck_out_tongue:
(Just came across - Shame, it seems to be just focusing on babies and not on their use of the net as they get older).

Back to the OP, it reminded me of this - A World of Warcraft Funeral Raid
Some WoW users are holding a funeral for a recently deceased player and some guys decide to raid the funeral. Video drags on a bit, but the choice of music is genius.

Low move, but kinda’ hilarious, either way it’s an interesting insight into WoW users dealing of death. I’ve had 2 friends pass away, both of the age where social media have been used for the majority of their lives, there facebook pages became shrines to them with people paying their respects via comments.

Ross - What would you like to have happen with your accounts and all your information you’ve shared with the world? Live on or pass away with you?

A few people have brought up the legacy aspects. That is a huge problem.

Remember AOL? Their subscriptions have dropped from a peak of 30 million users to less than 5 million (and still in free fall). Today, they were spun off of Time Warner.

Remember Geocities? I used to have an account there. This year, they closed all the domains with little fanfare. All of those who didn’t move their content, it’s all lost to the ether.

I too have linkedin, facebook, myspace, coroflot, FocusFanatics,, gmail, hotmail accounts plus another 10 that I have forgotten. I really doubt that half of these will be relevant or in business in 5 years, just like Geocities or AOL.

Good thread…

I’ve long thought about how I would want to live my life in a way that when I’m 80+ I could look back over pictures, artifacts, and memories and be very happy with the decisions I’ve made… or if not that, just to relive some of those times

It would be a great product to have some way to capture yearly things like all pictures, social media activities, emails, chats, scribbles, everything digital you are so they could be reviewed later - some kind of service exactly like what you are talking about Richard. Seems like with the way things are going, storage size would surely evolve to handle it, and the ways to view it could keep updating - it would be just some sort of database of your life with different ways to access it. Every photo album, scrapbook, video cassette, etc would be available in one place

Maybe it could cross reference other people that appear at different points in a lifetime (wouldn’t be hard with products out already like picasa with facial recognition and livescribe that seems to be able to recognize and make searchable my terrible handwriting)… Later people could even donate their archive like they donate their organs, to be part of a human experience archive (something like how they snapshot the internet every year for historians to come) . It could have some privacy issues maybe though

this almost feels like one of those 20% projects Google employees create during their workweeks

I’ve definitely thought about this one, especially having a family and all. The quickest thing I thought of was making sure that info on your sites, how to get to them (passwords, etc…) and instructions on what to do with them can be left in the will for the wife or surviving benefactors (setting up a memorial, informing people on my different sites, etc…). Also just for how to deal with your computer issues at home if you’re the only computer savvy one and something happens. Then there’s the risk that the person can then see “everything” :wink: so you have to set up some things to just disappear into space when you go.

I usually wait a month then delete all e-mail / facebook / myspace addresses and phone numbers. There is really no need to keep things like this in your life.

My brother is a web designer / developer and he has all of this stuff tightly documented in a secure location as well as a safe deposit box I believe, so in the event of tragedy it will all be accessible, not a bad idea, especially for someone like him that has ties and accounts all over the net.

great topic! listening to () by Sigur Ros at the same time is weirdly poignant…

I’ve got two thoughts about all of this.

  1. RKs suggestion of a lifelong web record of someone scares me a little. THe concept of starting a facebook page for a newborn is a little scary but also exciting. What about the people on your facebook or whatever page who you only kind of know, or maybe aren’t particularly close friends with? I don’t know, but the idea of little kids being a part of social networking the same as adults is odd. Maybe it will generate a new way of society, learning online social interaction at the same time as developing real world communication skills. I think there is a line in there somewhere, and I’m not sure where the crossing point it. Perhaps just leave it to the child to choose what they want to do.

  2. As far as what happens to your internet stuff when you die, I heard a funny story about that. Somewhere, perhaps collegehumour or something like that, I read a little thing or watched a video or something (long long ago) about how you are supposed to have a ‘porn buddy’, or someone that knows where all the embarassing little thing you might have stored on your computer or around the area that you wouldn’t necessarily want loved ones finding.

Not necessarily porn, but maybe things you don’t want others knowing about. Business ideas, silly memorabilia…just things that might leave a bad memory of you…The idea being that they delete all the files and remove any incriminating stuff in the event of your unexpected death…I don’t know if anyone actually has done this, but it was funny at the time.

Could be a good idea, but maybe a little paranoid…

I had the same reaction regarding the email & website for your kids. Once you have them you may feel differently about it. Even Facebook isn’t secure enough as far as I’m concerned. There needs to be a closed network that requires controls for new entries. Maybe the kids could vote on it, maybe the parents. This would have the potential to alienate some kids or reinforce some undesirable cliquish behaviors, but childrens’ protection should take precedence over hurt feelings.

And I was really bummed when geocities went away. I had a lot of good links that I lost.