A Solution to Death on the Internet

I was reading an article yesterday discussing the problem of when people die (in real life) their virtual data is left to live (potentially forever) in the system. Now, according to a Metafilter post, a number of potential solutions have cropped up and seemingly died (no pun intended) off. Most of these applications are set up to send out an email to all of your friends or relatives after a period of time of no contact (usually by email). However, when thinking about it, I say that they don’t go far enough.

Take into consideration the possibility of a data access API both for communication and for retreival. Let’s break it down into those two steps:

  • Communication: A vital aspect to this application is determining if someone is, in fact, still alive. So, the first part of the application would ask the user how long it should wait before it begins making preparations for the user having passed away. (One week, one month, one year?) After a specified time frame has been chosen, the user sets up a variety of contact options (and sample settings), for example: Instant Messenger – If I’m online, or message you, then I’m not dead, Email – If I email you, then I’m not dead, Phone – If I call you, or text message you, then I’m not dead, CVS – If I make a CVS commit… a message board post, usenet post, weblog update, journal update, etc. The potential for determining if someone is still ‘active’ is very feasible and even easily integratable with existing communication mediums. This whole extendable communication API would have to be the first step to making this work.
  • Retreival: – These are the tasks that the user wants us to commit after they have died. I’d imagine that a user would want to perform different operations on different types of data (delete private data, save public data, send letters). Again, the importance of some sort of extendable API becomes apparent, example: Delete a file/folder from my server, Send a file/folder to my friend(s)/family, Upload some text to my web site, post a message to my favorite message board, etc. Being able to access data on a variety of mediums would be essential (ssh, vpn, ftp, smb), which would hopefully be transparent.

It’s kind of hard to gauge a market for this sort of application, as there hasn’t been any prior, successful, implementations. Although, that in itself could be the note that it simply wouldn’t work in the current state of the Internet. I’d imagine that within the next 40 years, when the Internet generation begins to get old and thinking of the end times, that an application of this nature will be become much more popular and its usage much more widespread. Again, it’s very hard to say right now, but I personally hope that something like this will exist as I really don’t want those that I’ve met and communicated with to have to try and tie up my loose ends.

Posted: March 8th, 2005


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