What happens to your cyber-self once you're dead?

A post by the rather wonderful Tom Slee yesterday reminded me of yet another conversation at the recent London Social Media Camp. In his post Tom wondered how long the post would survive if he stopped blogging and paying Six Apart.

So how long will be here? My guess is about 10 years but I’d be interested in your guesses too.

When it goes, how will it go? The most likely cause of deletion is that I stop blogging and Six Apart deletes my blog. Right now I pay them $5 per month for hosting this blog, and if I stop paying them they say “After cancellation, you will no longer have access to your website and all information contained therein may be deleted by Six Apart. ” I would guess that I’m unlikely to want to blog for more than a few years. I’ve been doing it for — pause for quick look up — nearly three years, and regular readers will know I have to pause for breath even now. I don’t think this post exists anywhere else; a search for whimsley on the wayback machine shows nothing, so that would be it.

How long will this post live?, Whimsley

The SMCLondon08 conversation it reminded me of was about what will happen to our online presence once we,iStock_000006226515Small well, crossed over, as the delightfully orange John Edwards would say. Currently, like most of you I would hazard, I have more online presence than I shake a fair sized stick at.  Obviously I’m here, there’s also the random collection at Arbitrary Archive. Of course I’ve got profiles on facebook, and twitter and linkedin, not to mention sites like del.icio.us, Friendfeed and Last.FM that I use a fair bit. Then there’s a whole raft of other sites, like Brightkite, Plaxo, Pownce and Kwippy where I have accounts that I use every now and again.

Actually, that’s only only a small selection of the sites that hold information about me, or where I store info.  I do tend to sign up for anything new as soon as I’m digitally able and I think I may have a problem. Perhaps as well as starting a movement to get PRs to read more, I should also start some kind of Social Media Anonymous (SoMAn), each meeting to start with a declaration.

Hello, my name is Kerry and I will sign up to anything that proclaims to be related to social media, web 2.0 or has been recommended to me over twitter, regardless of how actually useful it may be or how many incredibly similar services I’ve already signed up to. I also have a constant and overwhelming urge to share with complete strangers the total minutia of my day to day life.

Inaugural meeting of SoMAn, cold church hall just off the Westway, some point in the future

I digress.

The problem we face is that when we do shuffle off mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible, our digital selves will remain firmly floating around in the cloud. Which seems a little untidy, takes up unnecessary data space and will prolly gently worry those ppl who only know you online, and have them wondering why you stopped tweeting/blogging/updating your facebook status all of a sudden.

So what to do?


You could leave a list of URLs, usernames and passwords in an envelope only to be opened on your death, so that your nearest and dearest can go notify those online buddies and close your accounts.  Although its possible you may have some content that you don’t want your nearest and dearest to actually see.

Perhaps we need a web 2.0/social media equivalent of the porn buddy.  A trusted friend who will tidy away any slightly nefarious or dodgy content that could potentially spoil your memory before passing on the relevant account details.

Or perhaps we’ll see a new service being offered by solicitors, or a new role of digital executer. I finally decided to  be a bit of a grown up this year and sorted out a will and life insurance. As part of the making a will process I was asked to list what assets I had (not many), who was going to end up with them (the cats) and who would be the person to make sure that happened  (sorry bro).  He didn’t ask if had any online presence and what I’d like to happen to that after I’ve gone, but I think that one day that might well happen.

UPDATE: Just been pointed at a more practical post by Paul Silver on death and social media, which looks at how your nearest and dearest can get access to your various accounts and what the various companies policies are.

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