July 23, 2010 · Posted in Coverage, Writing · Comment 

kulturaustausch ArticleI’m very excited because I’ve just received my copy of Kulturaustausch in the mail and my article on Digital Legacy is in it! Does that make me a mainstream media writer now that my writing has been published in print?

The magazine’s name in English is Cultural Exchange, while the theme of this issue is: e-volution: As we changed the digital world. The title of my article title translates to, “Digital Fading. When one dies – then what happens with his data on the net?” (Thanks Google Translate!)

Here’s more about the magazine:

resize_kulturaustausch10_3KULTURAUSTAUSCH – journal for international perspectives” is a German-speaking quarterly presenting current issues in international cultural relations from unusual angles. Authors from all over the world like Kofi Annan, Noam Chomsky, Francis Fukuyama or Amartya Sen discuss the interdependencies between politics, culture and society. The journal is read by readers in 146 countries. Each issue has a thematic focus, looking at the growing importance of cultural processes in the globalised world. The journal is published by the Institute for Foreign  Cultural Relations (ifa) with financial support by the Federal Foreign Office. A copy is available on request. For further information please visit www.ifa.de

Although I took a few years of German in high school but it’s pretty rusty now. Hopefully my article was translated accurately from English. I guess I’ll have to transcribe the German text and run it through Google Translate to find out.

Notifications and Data Keepers: Online Services Compared

July 20, 2010 · Posted in Research · Comment 

question-markOnline digital executor services, data safety deposit boxes, death notification services, your last words, password keepers – whatever you want to call them, a wide range of online services have popped up over the last two years to help you manage your digital accounts, files, notifications and memorials. Some are free while others carry a monthly or yearly fee to maintain. Some services are stripped down and may only have one function, others have a dizzying array of features.

As consumers, there is no resource that looks at these new online services and their features objectively to help you choose the right one for your needs.

I plan to change that.

This summer, I will be creating on a questionnaire and will be inviting service providers to complete it. And, I’ll individually test and review the services of each participating company.

Preliminary examinations of service providers show theses basic feature sets:

  • Notifications – often in the form of prearranged emails sent with final instructions for managing digital accounts and/or messages for loved ones.
  • Passwords & Files – store passwords, text, photo, audio and video files online to be accessed by a designated individual(s) or yourself in case of emergency
  • Memorials – create a living or posthumous online memorial or obituary

Emphasis on the feature sets varies, though security is a top concern of most services. Some companies even offer to change content on your social networks or delete accounts according to your instructions.

Your Biggest Questions

The top three questions raised when I mention online notification and data distribution services are:

  • How is my death confirmed and verified?
  • What happens to my data if the company ceases to operate?
  • Are my wishes legally recognized?

Other answers I’ll be seeking from service providers:

  • How many servers are used, where are they located, and what redundancy is in place for back ups?
  • What is the security process, which encryption is used and where?
  • How easy is the service to use?
  • What are the file storage limits?
  • Is there social network integration?
  • Are there tools to help keep my account up-to-date easier?
  • Can I export my account information?

What about you? Which questions would you like to see answered to help you decide which service is right for you?

If you are a service provider, I’d like to hear from you too.

Please leave me a comment below, Tweet me @Digital Legacy, or send me an email: Adele |at| DeathAndDigitalLegacy |dot| com .

Gray Questions Deceased Social Profiles

July 4, 2010 · Posted in Policies · Comment 

Silicon Valley tech blogger Louis Gray recently asked on his blog: Should Social Profiles Live on When People Die?

He’s questioning why it’s not easier to report that a Facebook user has passed away. Louis must have missed that day last October when Facebook blogged about the ability to memorialize accounts. I don’t blame him – it was easy to miss. Although Facebook had this feature in place and working long before this announcement (my sources say it came about after the Virinia Tech shootings in April 2007) they haven’t gone out of their way to promote it.

I have heard many complaints from people who’ve encountered exactly the scenario that Louis recounts, and likely you have too: the features that Facebook uses to encourage activity among its members will include deceased friends. Whether you’re asked to “reconnect with” someone by writing on their wall,  to help them “find new friends”, or to “keep in touch” by sending them a message, these prompts can be a distressing and emotional reminder of the death of a friend. These feelings are worsened because the automated reminders are tinged with guilt by putting the onus on the reader to do more, when clearly, there’s nothing more to be done.

When a Facebook account is memorialized, the deceased friend’s profile is no longer included in these prompts.

Louis Gray goes on to say:

Either way, the way we just leave things hanging in a position of suspended animation doesn’t work for me. If social networks are to celebrate births, celebrate life’s milestones and mark bad news as well, they should be ready for the final passage to whatever’s next.

It’s great that more people from the valley are starting to write about and question this incongruous aspect of social networks. It is a central part of how I feel about the state of online services policies (or lack thereof) and I felt compelled to comment on the post:

Actually, Facebook is one of the few social networks to have some semblance of a policy. Most other networks have no policy on death, though they might on “inactive” accounts. Email accounts have better policies around accessing a loved one’s data, but they’ll never hand over control of the account to the family.

I’ve been researching and speaking on this topic for 18 months. There is a disconnect between online services’ policies and the realities of life. Building online businesses is about using your resources toward growth and acquisition of new users to drive revenue. Having resources dedicated to termination of accounts and verification of a person’s alive/deceased status is not a top priority because it doesn’t produce revenue.

And let’s face it, most online services, especially free ones, are not known for providing individualized customer service. They just don’t have the staff. (Facebook has almost 500 million users and just 500 staff.)

Thanks for writing on this important issue. I’m glad to see more people giving it some thought. If you’re interested in knowing more, you can check out my blog on the topic: http://DeathAndDigitalLegacy.com

How about you? Have you encountered a situation on Facebook, or elsewhere, that was inconsiderate about whether a friend was alive or deceased? How did it make you feel and did you do anything about it?