A maybe-morbid-but-valuable opportunity for Facebook

Facebook life events

With their most recent Timeline update, Facebook has made the creation of a “life event” start with a series of choices. One of the “Family & Relationship” event is “Loss of a Loved One”.

I wonder if (and hope) Facebook will leverage such statuses, when the deceased’s profile is tagged in the status, to somehow flag that person’s page in a special way, to indicate that she/he has passed away (which should not mean deleting the page, or making it inaccessible).

I have been thinking of just this context, recently, from my own perspective (everybody dies at some point) as well as in the context of our WordPress.com users. If I take my case, no one but me has access to the sites I get to publish on. So what does that mean when I pass away? How will my online friends know? By the lack of updates? Hmmm…

Technically, no one having access to my sites is not entirely true, as administrators on WordPress.com could. But I happen to work there, and they’d learn the news pretty quick. But what happens to our users’ sites?

By now, most of my (meaningful) relationships are online, by ratio. People I never or rarely meet in person. That includes some family members, since I’m a 1st generation emigrant/immigrant. It doesn’t make our relationship virtual though. And I’d like [them] to know I’m [or they’re] not around any more.

On a personal level, my current idea is to leave a sealed letter to my wife, which would contain my credentials and instructions, where it matters most to me: my blog. Anything posted there would be pushed to the rest anyway. I have not yet, because it does mean a paper trail, which I’m not comfortable with. Maybe coupled with a safety deposit box.

But as a software developer, I can’t help but thinking of it from an automated detection or algorithmic perspective. To which I have no solution yet.

Ideas? Prior art? What do you think?

Update: needless to say, such an algorithm would have to get zero false positives… Flagging a living as dead would simply be a terrible thing to do. :p

4 thoughts on “A maybe-morbid-but-valuable opportunity for Facebook

  1. Not even the government achieves zero false positives. Living people get flagged as deceased in the system. Sometimes it’s an innocent mistake, other times it’s to hurt or take advantage of the victim, and some people try to fake their own deaths for various reasons.

    One implication is that there is tremendous value to be provided in this corner of the market. Another is that any player in the market will be exposed to significant liability.


  2. I’ve compiled a list of all of the web based activities/products that we have accounts with. It has directions as to what I want done with those accounts. Hopefully I will have enough time prior to my demise to shut down my web presence on my own terms, but you just never know, do you!


  3. I started thinking about death and social media when one of my best friends passed away this time last year, actually, and I wrote about this first real experience with collective online mourning on my own blog. And, the control freak and perfectionist in me grows increasingly uncomfortable with my abandoned digital spaces, and I’ve mused on this in the context of (my own) death, too.

    While I’m actually not fussed too much about leaving an abandoned Facebook profile (and the like) behind, as I generally feel I’ve little control over my presence and feel like just a speck there, I’ve thought about what would happen to my blog — a space that is *truly* mine, and a site I’d hope could remain online somehow. Perhaps I could specify instructions in a will of sorts, or sign up for one of those digital legacy services (which I find at once silly, morbid, yet smart).

    Perhaps a loved one I designate, somewhere in the admin panel, could have access once I’ve passed (which would be distinct from simply a site admin), or shoot off a final post I’d drafted and stored for when the time came (again, morbid…but something I think about often.) Or maybe we could create a page somewhere on WP.com where people can fill out a form to ask to memorialize or “freeze” the blog, indicating that the site is no longer active.

    While I cannot comment from a developer standpoint, these are some personal thoughts as a WordPress.com user and person very interested in the subject…


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