Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Digital Footprints After Death or Traumatic Injury

Adam Ostrow’s TED Talk, “After your final status update,” raises some interesting questions and possibilities regarding social media, intelligent analysis software programs, and digital footprints. In the video, Adam highlights the web services:

  • Lets people create a video which is shown to others online after their death
  • 1000memories: Lets people create an online photo archive of memories for a loved one who has passed away
  • That Can Be My Next Tweet: A service which attempts (rather feebly, IMHO) to guess your next tweet based on recent, past tweets

I think there are issues much more practical and important than those addressed by these web services involving our digital footprints. What about archiving and preserving digital content we’ve posted online to websites we own and control? When a domain registration expires, when a web hosting account monthly payment is not renewed, what happens to content shared on those websites? Without intentional preparation by the owner, sharing login credentials and instructions, those pieces of digital content could easily “fade into the ether.” I’ve discussed this issue with friends in the past. Just this last week, I actually reviewed with my son where he can retrieve my online account passwords in case he needs to use them. Death is not the only scenario which could require others to need access to our online publishing keys: A traumatic accident or injury could also trigger this.

I’m not well prepared for these scenarios and issues, but I think it makes sense to think about them. Our family just has a will at present, not a trust, but it probably should include some provisions relating to digital content. I’m not aware of web services which address these needs, but I’d guess they’ll emerge in the months ahead. Just like some companies will help take care of all the things which need to be done when a credit card or ATM debit card is lost or stolen, companies will probably offer services to maintain and archive digital content perpetually into the future.

Is a person’s digital footprint important after their death, as it was in life? The answer depends on context, in most cases. For those who knew and loved someone, the answer is certainly yes. For people interested in the topics that person wrote about and researched, the answer is also yes. While The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine does archive a lot of digital content, it doesn’t archive everything. I’m not aware of web services which perform services like those Derek K. Miller asked for in his posthumous, May 2011 post, “The last post.” If you know of web services like this, please share them as comments.

Also chime in with your thoughts: Are these issues things which should concern us? Have you taken steps or are you considering steps to preserve your digital footprint after your own death?

Via Adam Ostrow‘s article for CNN, “What happens after your final status update?

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