On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re Dead

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Aug 5, 2009

Filed under: Personal 43 comments

Thanks so much for all of the well-wishes and condolences on Monday’s post.

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My dad died back in 2000. He was somewhat backward technologically. Actually, he was about as internet-ready as Amish furniture. He owned a computer he didn’t use and couldn’t understand. When he passed away, it was pretty easy to round up his contacts and put his affairs in order. It was a simple matter to thumb through his dog-eared contact book and make out who was important and how to reach them. The hardest part was reading his handwriting. It was like Gandalf’s: Large flowing script that was beautiful to see and a pain in the ass to decipher.

Heather’s mom died, and for a while we puzzled over how to do the same for someone who is plugged-in. There were a lot of questions along the way, and it was hard to know how to best handle things. It’s all taken care of now, but it did get me thinking about how it will become more and more common to need to take care of someone’s online affairs when they pass. How do you close out their email accounts, their forum accounts, Facebook, MySpace, IM, etc etc? In short, what do you do will all this stuff? In some cases you can just abandon it – there’s certainly no shortage of that sort of behavior from the net users who are still alive – but I have a sense that it might be unwise to leave accounts floating around out there for years when the owner is gone, particularly if those accounts might contain personal information.

The trouble is that there aren’t any customs or traditions for stuff like this yet. Everyone has a sense about how you take care of memberships, taxes, credit cards, and business relationships, but when it comes to your digital identity everyone is just winging it right now. Internet life has become really complicated in a short period of time, and the culture hasn’t quite caught up.

Below are some of my thoughts on handling someone’s online affairs. (And it should go without saying that all of this assumes you have the right to be doing so. We’re talking about spouses and parents here, or situations where the responsibility has fallen into your lap because you happen to be the family “tech person”. I’m not suggesting you hack into auntie Mabel’s accounts when she goes and start deleting stuff.)

Email

Assuming you can get into their email account, I think it’s a good idea to do so, and I also think it’s a good idea to hold onto that email address for a couple of years. Email accounts are often the keys to everything else. If you have the email account, you can use password recovery to get to all the other accounts. Many email services will delete an account if you don’t log in for N months, so it’s probably a good idea to check it once in a while just to keep it open. Perhaps six months from now you’ll discover the deceased had a blog you never knew about, and the thing has become overrun with vile pornographic spam. If you give up the email you’ll have no way to take down the blog or clean up the spam.

Facebook / MySpace / LinkedIn

Mom’s Facebook page was a hub of activity, and it was important to be able to announce her death and tie up those loose ends. Facebook apparently has some sort of “memorial” mode, where a page can be locked and will only be visible to existing friends, but that’s useless. (Or so I’m told, I don’t really do Facebook myself.) We want the page to go on so that high school friends or long-lost relatives seeking her can actually find her, learn what happened to her, and find out how to get in touch with the rest of the family.

Facebook is becoming the “database of everybody”, and it seems to make sense that people should stay in that database even after they die. If I’m looking up a friend from 20 years ago, I’d like to find them even if they’re dead. (And I’d like to know that they’re dead.) That way we can tell the difference between “doesn’t use the internet” and “died three years ago in a freak knitting accident”.

Instant Messaging

I can’t think of any reason to maintain an IM account after the owner has passed on, but do you need to close it out? Do you just never log in again, or should you delete all the contacts and profile information?

Actually, leaving it alone might be best. I suppose it would freak people out to see that their deceased friend has just signed in.

Forums

I suppose in most cases it’s fine to handle forum accounts the same way you handle IM. Abandon, and perhaps wipe the profile. (Assuming you even know about them. Heck, I’ll bet there are a dozen forum accounts out there that I’ve forgotten over the years. I couldn’t even close all of my OWN forum accounts, much less someone else’s.) Forum accounts rarely have anything more personal than a name, and an overwhelming majority of those will be aliases.

Blogs

I’ve often wondered what would happen to my blog here if I got hit by a bus or was assassinated by agents working deep cover for EA. I mean besides the fact that I wouldn’t update it anymore. What is the protocol for when a blogger dies suddenly? Do you log in and post a notice for their readers? Do you take it down? I Googled around for old articles talking about deceased bloggers, and sure enough when I searched for their blogs they were gone. Some of the people seemed semi-famous, enough so that you’d think someone would have taken up the job of caring for it. The most prominent case I found was Cathy Seipp, who seemed to be a widely-read political writer of some sort, and who died of cancer at 50. I searched for her blog, but the only thing I found was blank. She’s only been dead for two years and already her blog is gone.

If you do find yourself with a blog of a loved one and you choose to keep it running, you’ll probably want to announce the death and then close the comments on the entire site after the readers have said goodbye. Otherwise, it will eventually fill up with spam. This is bad netiquette, and the last thing you want is for the work of your loved one to be defaced by spambots.

There are a lot of abandoned blogs out there, and I’m sure some small number of them are the result of having the owner die without telling their family about the blog or how to get into it.

Morbid aside: I know my family would be very reluctant to close this blog, given the ridiculous amount of time I’ve put into it. Lots of families have a train set in the basement, a pile of fishing gear, or a half-restored car under a tarp. It was dad’s passion before he died, and now nobody has the heart to get rid of it even though it’s just gathering dust. This blog would likely become the family train set.

Blogs are only a few years old, but sooner or later people will likely come to some sort of agreement about what should happen to old blogs.

Steam

I wonder if anyone at Valve has given this issue much thought. I know Valve has a strict no-transfer policy, which means that your collection should supposedly die with you.

Given the monetary worth of an account with lots of games – possibly hundreds of dollars – it seems like someone should get it. But a Steam account is a mixture of social stuff (friend list and profile information) and game access, and you can’t merge accounts. I don’t know how you could handle this.

I doubt Steam will last a hundred years – the landscape of the gaming industry is is tumultuous and fortunes change rapidly – but it’s amusing to think about a Steam account 100 years from now, the owner hilariously claiming to be 132 years old just so they could have access to great-great grandad’s collection. (Insert obvious Episode 3 joke here.)

I’m sure I’m not the first person to ask these questions. Someday we’ll have customs for dealing with stuff like this so that we know what to do.

I’m going to go write down my passwords, just in case.

 


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43 thoughts on “On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re Dead

  1. illiterate says:

    I have pondered the same thing myself. Usually I come to the conclusion that I should leave some sort of instructions for loved ones. where to find my online presence, what I’d like done there.

    have we reached the point where we should set a page-view threshold.. if the site is *this* active, then it’s contents should be preserved as literature?

    speaking of death, what about the death of information? I have struggled recently to find some pre-2000 memes online, and often the pages are expired, and it seems the content is forgotten. Maybe I want to listen to Terrible Mr. G, or watch the Chu-Chu Rocket ad, or send someone an image link of random people holding up “Free Kevin” stickers?

    how do we even catalog things like this?

  2. Halokon says:

    I’m only 20, and so, in theory, shouldn’t have to face this for a looooong time. But by the time I’m old and grey, you have to wonder, will it be the norm for people to be leaving this sort of instruction in their will?

    And as illiterate above me said, why has there not been a more focussed effort to preserve the ebbs and flows of the web? There’s a few attempts at it, but for the most part, a page is lost once it’s stopped being hosted, and google’s cache system isn’t robust enough to be a vault of memes, pages and blogs. Whilst some might question the validity of wishing to preserve memes and other less than meaningful trends, it’s a place to start at least.

    I think both issues need pondering aplenty.

    1. Schaedler says:

      I wouldn’t be so sure that it’s gonna be a long time before your dead. I’m only 14 and I am already dealing with stuff people in their 80’s go through. I can strongly say, some things are worse than death. My 17 year old brother died 3 to 4 months ago and it has felt like days. I don’t go a day with out sobbing until my thought is about to bleed, but I have taught myself to cry silently. I suffer in silence. just make sure you don’t get too attached to feeling the slightest bit of joy, because the next second, you might not be dead, but your life is already over…

  3. Yonder says:

    A very morbid and thought provoking post. I was just thinking about a smaller piece of this a couple of weeks ago. I am a member of several forums, but I only really frequent one. Some sort of message there may be appropriate. I agree that this is the sort of information that should be in the will, a set of passwords and instructions on what to do in each case. I would be interested to know if this is something they are starting to teach in law school, and whether someone will suggest these sorts of things when I go to draw up a will.

  4. The ‘old’ net is semi preserved by the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/index.php) a “non-profit [organisation] building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form.”

    Nice article, it’s definatly something that requires thought, and I think it’s probably one of those things that people will eventually start to cover in their will. I can imagine that online games like WoW would have to have their accounts settled in some way that would be dependant on the wishes of the deceased.

  5. Mike says:

    I have all of my usernames, passwords, URLs, etc for all of my online accounts stored in KeePass. :)

    The first entry in the file is a personal note to Whom it May Concern – as if I have passed my access password to them, they will be empowered to do what needs to be done.

    Some other online things to worry about:

    Online bill paying – automated, from credit cards or checking accounts. Likely you should discontinue the automated payment and have bills mailed the old way.

    Online banking/credit card accounts – probably should not close them – but definitely keep a close eye on all transactions.

    Forums, chat rooms, social sites, purely friends, etc – post a simple comment in each about the passing, ID yourself as friend/girlfriend/etc. Then close the account.

    online games, etc – if there is a common messaging area, post an announcement, otherwise just delete, close, etc the account. If it’s a free game.

    Steam – keep the account. As long as you know the email and such, you are just as entitled to it as the previous owner. If you have my password you got it from me or my will, so you got everything anyway. You are my heir, and the steam games were mine, so now they are yours.

    Fee-based games, like WoW or the like, you will likely have to close, as the payment method would be in the previous owner’s name, and they won’t let you change owners. Ah well.

    Yes, I have put considerable thought into it. :)

  6. Ingvar says:

    My Grand Plan is to (at some point, I’ve procrastinated about it for the last 18, so I better get to it) prepare a sealed envelope with “this is MY password(s) to my account(s), this is the server root password, this is a file of sites I frequent and the passwords are in that password-safe; the passphrase is …; please announce my death as seems appropriate, please announce my death at these blogs/site and to these mailing lists; unsubscribe me from all mailing lists, there are probably some I have forgotten, so please monitor my incoming email”.

    From there, it becomes an exercise of updating the sealed envelope as my login password or the root password changes, so it MAY make sense to have those on a separate sheet.

    Then, just let the near and dear know where the envelope is, so they can take the necessary actions in the event of my untimely demise.

  7. echelon says:

    A very thought provoking post, Shamus.
    I’m a long time reader of your work, but tend to be quite passive when it comes to commenting on it. I’m not sure whether it’s because I don’t feel I have anything to say on the subject, or simply laziness.

    Having said that, I find comments to be an incredibly encouraging motivator for continuing to write on my own blog. Some of the comments I’ve received are amongst the most edifying pieces of text I’ve read, even though they tend to mimic the solemness of my posts which as you have most likely inferred, are seldom solemn at all.

    If I were to pass away, I would like to think that it would continue to be hosted. Not as some sort of narcissistic edifice to my life and “works”, but simply as a memory. A list of the things that I felt were important or interesting enough to bother to spend the time thinking through and writing a post on.

    I don’t exactly believe that many people would visit it as the years roll by, after I’m gone. Thinking on it, I can almost guarantee it. I tend to post on gaming/tech related current events which aren’t exactly timeless.

    I suddenly feel the desire to comment more on the posts I consume. One of a few services I can do the people who entertain, educate and encourage me.

    There are so few things that we can leave behind, aren’t there? Our descendants, our inheritances, memories of our interactions, and our works.

    Why remove what little we leave behind?

  8. Harvey says:

    I had to do this for my mother-in-law. Fortunately, she consistently used her dog’s name for her password.

  9. Jericho says:

    I heard about some services, though my google fails me, about a “deadman-switch” of sorts, for this sort of thing. You fill out the appropriate “goodbye posts” for facebook, blogs, email, etc, and it gets set on a timer. A couple weeks, probably. If you do not reset the timer yourself, it will assume you have been taken to the great WAN in the sky, and send them off.

    Terribly morbid and short sighted, but it is one option.

  10. scragar says:

    I subscribed to a service a few months ago that emails out if I don’t check on it at least every 3 months, after the month or so it warns me, then after the second month I got another warning(via email), and if I do nothing for a month after that it sends out my selected emails for people to read.

    Personally I don’t trust anyone I know with any of my passwords, my accounts for various sites have been abused by family simply because I left it logged in on their computers while I went to the toilet, or answered the door. I figure this solution allows me not only to email the admins to any sites I’m a member of, allowing them to close my account or whatever else may be required, but also let’s me tell my family and friends anything I may have been holding off telling them before whatever event happened occurred(like my safe combo or anything I wanted to say before I died but clearly didn’t get around to).

    It’s worth considering using a service like this Shamus, I know I wouldn’t really want my family to run around closing forum accounts and registering(or logging in as me) to tell people what’s gone on, this way I can do it all before anything happens.
    (My mum doesn’t have email yet, so I have her neighbour emailed instead, one of a few flaws with this strategy).

  11. ClearWater says:

    The Internet Archive everything.

    Well, a lot of things anyway. I don’t know if that’s Cathy Seipp’s original blog but at least it’s not a blank page.

  12. Picador says:

    I would hope that the default behaviour would be to leave a blog online. Information should never disappear from the web without a good reason.

  13. Factoid says:

    Best thing you can probably do is keep an updated password list available with links to commonly used sites.

    Sign up for a password vault service, or buy some vault software. That way you can set one password that never has to change and keep that in a safe or with your will. The contents of the password vault will then be updated whenever you change any passwords and it will be much less hassle for you to update, increasing the likelihood that you will actually do so.

  14. RPharazon says:

    I keep a text file on my desktop view entitled “To Family Members or Otherwise”. Since nobody uses my laptop except me, there’s no chance of awkward encounters with people who have read it or are reading it before my death. In the case of my death, it’s easily noticeable and accessible.

    Within it contains a sort of non-legal will of sorts. I should get around to making a legal will for the physical stuff, but I don’t think modern wills cover things like “x shall have the duty of closing down accounts on the internet”. It’d just be weird.

    Anyways, within the file is a single password (unlike the rest of my passwords in every sense) that opens a Truecrypt File conveniently located next to the text file.

    The Truecrypt file then contains more text files, each encompassing a different topic. There’s a passwords file, listing all the relevant passwords and accounts. There’s a file detailing certain ways to close an account, and there’s certain files detailing how to best close relationships and whatnot.

    Lastly, there is a folder within the Truecrypt archive that has monthly-updated letters and kinda-wills concerning friends and family. One last goodbye, in case I die in a car crash or something.

    One last note: I’ve never thought about who will get my Steam account if I die. I guess I’d bequeath it to one of my friends, seeing as how they gifted me half of the stuff I have. Time to add that to their file, I guess.

  15. MadTinkerer says:

    “it's amusing to think about a Steam account 100 years from now, the owner hilariously claiming to be 132 years old just so they could have access to great-great grandad's collection.”

    Hey, that’s the plan for my Steam account. The whippersnapper probably won’t appreciate all the “retro” stuff on there like the Atari Collection, the Doom games, or Team Fortress 2 (which will be ancient by the time he or she is born), but he or she is welcome to it.

  16. Mari says:

    I have a “love file” for my family. In it I keep all those documents that you’re supposed to keep including will, funeral planning documents, trusts, etc. I also have a hard copy of a file on my computer that details those websites that I access on something resembling a regular basis where people might want or need to know about my death. It includes account names (although those are fairly easy now that I’ve stumbled upon a name that’s almost never taken in any system) and passwords.

    As for online banking and bill paying, good luck getting those things closed out. It’s been over a year that I’ve been fighting with my bank to quit charging me for their online bill payment service which I never use. I still pay $7 per month for it despite having instructed the bank verbally and in writing no fewer than 7 times to cancel the service and payment. I doubt they would be more inclined to do so if I were dead.

    And for the record, I hope that should something happen to you, Shamus, somebody would keep the site alive and post a notice. It kind of makes me sad to think that this blog into which you’ve poured so much of yourself might just vanish someday because the kids can’t be arsed to add a little entry that “Dad died last month” and keep paying the hosting bill.

  17. Galenor says:

    There are actually a few websites that handle some of this – at least, it only sends e-mails to people you specify, so your guildmembers on WoW and your Steam Friends will still have no idea about your death.

    This article I found a while back talks about both these emailing services and the inability to contact in-game friends. It was an interesting read, as I’ve often thought about what would happen if I suddenly snuff it, leaving any potential in-game friends and guildmates wondering where I’ve gotten to.

    http://www.physorg.com/news156395887.html

  18. Chip says:

    You’re definitely right about keeping the e-mail address active. When Twitter was hacked recently, the way the hacker initially got into the system was by noticing that an employee’s password reminder was being e-mailed to a Hotmail account that was no longer active. Since Hotmail recycles dead accounts, the hacker simply re-registered that address and then had the password sent to him there.

    I’ve already got bank account and similar information in a file for my family, but your post is an excellent reminder that I should do the same thing with all my online stuff. Thanks!

  19. Telas says:

    Another point, that some of us don’t have to worry about, but others (including myself had I passed in my single years) might…

    Some of us have embarrassing things – Porn sites and collections, folders of somewhat tasteless pictures that we (but not necessarily everyone) may find humorous, and things that aren’t outright obscene but could be embarrassing to whoever finds them. (Like that titillating anime collection you don’t want just anyone stumbling on.)

    Why I thought of this: When I was in my early 20s, a friend died in a car wreck. Our circle of friends got together at his apartment for an impromptu wake. We did this partly to remember him (it sounds strange now, but having it at his apartment was very fitting). But we also did this so we could sanitize the apartment of condoms, porn, obscene quantities of hard liquor, and um, ‘paraphernalia’.

    My suggestion: Email someone you trust (I mean really trust) to clean up for you in case of an untimely end. It could be something as simple as “Log in to my home PC as UserX with PasswordY, run the “In Case Of.bat” file on the desktop, and log out when it’s done.” And test that batch file.

    The wealthier among us may want to put something like this in their wills, so a friend won’t be left covering for us.

    Of course, the best policy is always honesty. But you won’t be there to explain the humor behind all those pictures of the schoolgirls and the tentacle-monsters…

  20. Strangeite says:

    Thanks for the reminder. The wife and I are currently putting things in place to protect our children in the event of our deaths. But I must admit that I had even considered passwords.

    It is even more complicated since I am the family geek. I host five of my family members business websites on my server. If I got hit by a bus today, nobody would have a clue how to access the server.

  21. Mari says:

    @Telas – LOL It’s called a “porn buddy” and Steven Moffat covered it in “Coupling” several years ago. I’d give you the link but apparently BBC is being selfish and making everybody take it down.

    Anyway, the gist is that the best friend a guy can have is his porn buddy who is solemnly sworn to arrive at his apartment ahead of the parents to clean out all the porn and other things you wouldn’t want Mom and Dad to see. And as a perk for completing this sad duty you didn’t swear to DESTROY said articles, just keep parents from seeing them ;-)

  22. Telas has a good point – you ought to have someone who can go and delete your pr0n collection before your family finds it.

    The steam account is easy – I’d just give it to my brother. He is close to my age, and has the same last name so he could easily keep using it for years to come.

    As for my blog – that’s a good question. I should create some sort of password file so that my loved ones can access it, and get the host information. I’d prefer it to stay up as log as possible after I’m dead – I should probably put that down somewhere so that my family knows about it.

    In fact, I’d love it to continue after I’m gone. Ideally I’d love to eventually find some like minded soul (or souls) who could take it over one day. :P

  23. potemkin.hr says:

    Really interesting post, makes you think of all the files and online services you’re leaving behind. Maybe a good idea would be copying all important files and login data on an DVD/USB stick so that your family knows what to do in case of your “premature departure”.
    @ Shamus: In case of your death, could you arrange that someone backs-up your whole blog (including the online comics) into PDF, so that your works won’t fall into the internetz oblivion?

  24. Joe Cool says:

    I would be surprised if Steam didn’t have a transfer policy in case of death. My wife (who works for Blizzard) informs me that should a World of Warcraft player die in real life, an immediate family member (parent, spouse, adult sibling, adult child) can transfer the account to their name if they provide all the right information (death certificate, etc.) and an ounce of blood.

    Although, again, it would be freaky to see someone who died log on.

    ooOOOOoooo! I am the ghost of night-elves past! oooOOOOooo!

  25. Gary says:

    There was actually an article in my school paper about this a couple months ago (ie, during the school year).
    There’s a company out there that will, for a one time fee of $300, keep secret all your passwords for everything, and in the case of your death (I’m not sure how they’d know) do various appropriate things for you. Again, I’m not sure what that means.
    Maybe I ought to go find that article…
    EDIT: After spending a grueling 2.1 minutes looking, I can’t find the article. Oh well. If anyone else wants to look, it’s an article in The Lantern (OSU’s student paper)

  26. vede says:

    I disagree entirely with your IM approach. I have a few very good friends I’ve made through the internet and our communication is done almost entirely through IM or voice-chat applications.

    I’d suggest cross-referencing all the different programs a person has (Windows Messenger, Skype, whatever) to see who appears the most, and especially look at the people they’ve most recently chatted with (if you can), and then try to inform those people of what’s happened.

    You should probably try to search their internet history for frequently visited forums to make a thread there informing the forum denizens of the user’s death.

    Also, as a note to the person who plans on being dead, I suggest making some sort of note including high-value internet sites (like forums and such), high-value IM friends, and a list of their frequently used usernames and passwords, so that people will be better able to inform everyone important about their death.

  27. Tryssnik says:

    Actually, leaving it alone might be best. I suppose it would freak people out to see that their deceased friend has just signed in.

    A friend of mine’s co-worker died, but they hadn’t started clearing his cube yet. Apparently his work computer was still on at telling everyone on his AIM buddy list that he would BRB. It creeped her out to no end till she got permission to go over to his cube and turn his “locked” computer off.

  28. Mom says:

    Small as my footprint on the net is, I still had thoughts about this when we were dealing with your (our) family’s recent sudden death. Some more important matters came to mind as well.

  29. smIsle says:

    I did this for my Grandfather last year, but it was fairly easy since even though he used email, etc, it was all with people he had known for year (got to use that handy address book). I have a password file deep in my computer, and it’s encrypted so that only my husband can understand it … if we both died in a car crash or something – my little brother is a hacker, and he could figure it out.

    The one thing that bugs me is that I do everything on my computer – if I were to die, it would basically all just disappear. Everything I’ve written, my journals .. everything. That doesn’t leave a lot for the next generation to remember me by. Within reason, I would love to have someone use up the rest of my paper reams and print pretty much all my stuff and then burn the rest onto DVDs – throw it all into a truck and put it into the attic for the grandkids to find some rainy day :-)

    Instant Messaging — you could set the away message to “we regret to inform you …” for anyone who didn’t hear and tries to message them a year down the road. That migt be more trouble than it’s worth depending on how much they used the IM.

    As far as blogs go, I think it depends on the nature of the blog, and how they died. The only blog I know of that has gone on after the blogger died was a peace activist who was working in the middle east what he was kidnapped and then killed – his blog is still up at http://waitinginthelight.blogspot.com/

    Jericho: My non-techie friend had the same idea. He is part of a card company thingy that sends out cards to people automatically on their birthdays, etc. You could set up little death note cards, and set the departure date to a month in the future – as long as you remember to advance the date every month, you’ll be fine. Then, when you *DO* die, it would automatically send the cards to everyone YOU thought ought to know.

  30. Vadimirin says:

    My concept is roughly the same as maybe half the posters here, a will with a password to a password vault and instructions on what to do with my accounts.

    Actually, I should probably point my mother towards this thread, she’s got a password vault called MacJournal, and I think we could figure out her general password, but some sub-directories are passworded with complex passwords that we couldn’t even guess at. That still leaves the questions you raised though: what do we DO with all of these forums and message boards that she’s opened? Do we close them, do we post a message to everyone on her contact list? Very important questions.

  31. Angie says:

    I’ve wondered about this myself over the years. Most of my social life is online these days, and my husband only hears bits and fragments of it. (I’ve given him my blog and journal URLs, but he’s just not that interested, which is weird since he is online, and for that matter we met online, but anyway.)

    It seems we should keep a sort of online will-and-testament somewhere prominent (like on the desktop, and named READ THIS IF I DIE or whatever) and in that document give detailed instructions of what to do if you die, where to find passwords, what you want done with your blogs.

    Most important, though, is whom to contact. I have a lot of casual friends and acquaintances for whom a note posted on my various blogs and journals would be adequate, but I also have some very close friends who should get e-mails. An online will would have their names and e-mail addresses, with maybe a brief description of how I know each person so whoever’s cleaning up after I did has at least one or two clues.

    But I agree that our culture needs to come up with something standard for this situation.

    Angie

  32. There’s a twist to the problem though… at some point that rusty old car needs thrown away, and at some point nobody will want to pay for/maintain your blog anymore. It might take a whole generation to two, but that day will come.

    Then what happens? Does it get turned off like it doesn’t matter? or does everybody get sad all over again because they feel like they’re removing your legacy?

  33. Christian Groff says:

    I understand you Shamus. I play Spore and have a Spore Page and account that keeps downloading stuff to my game. Since nobody knows the exact date of their death(unless they suicide, but that’s not an option for me), I will probably be playing Spore until I’m old and frail(I’m already 37, which means my youth is gone), so I will probably give a request to my much younger and healthier sisters – when I die, they must come to my computer and, after closing my blogs, wipe it completely free, deleting the entire hard drive and everything on it. Once the people on the Spore community discover I am not updating in three months, EA can close the Spore account.

  34. Terry says:

    When I started doing 2 months of travelling, doing things and going farther away from home than I had ever doine, and doing this ALONE, I kept a flash drive on me. I was meeting online friends I had never met in person, but just in case, this flash drive contained all my personal contact info – who to contact in case the worst happened and I got shanked by a hobo in a San Diego or Edmonton Alley.

    The Trip to San Diego is something I regret and the trip to Edmonton has given me new focus in life (Must move there…) I was actually comforted by keeping this emergancy info on me – because in case something did happen, I was sure people I knew and cared about, and cared for me, would know my fate and at least spread the word about it.

    The inspiration for carrying this on me came to me by reading an article somewhere (Cannot remember for the life of me where it came from) about a son who had to go and contact his father’s online friends, and found his dad had many close friends in World of Warcraft he never knew about. I thought to myself what happened if I never made it to my destination? I knew air travel was the safest means of transportation around, safer than driving, but not 6 months before I took my first plane ride, I had been in a high speed car wreck and by a miracle was not even hurt, and I was cautious and nervous.

    While its not something we ever plan on, moving more and more into a digital age where digital friends can become closer to us than any of the friends we live around, its becoming (To me) more and more important to consider what should be done in case we keel over and die.

    I just hope when someone right clicks on my dead body they find something they can use.

  35. DanK says:

    I heard of a program, Dead Man’s Switch on slashdot years ago – http://www.pcworld.com/downloads/file/fid,23183-order,1-page,1-c,alldownloads/description.html
    —–
    We use our computers for almost every aspect of our lives; shouldn’t they help smooth our passing as well? Dead Man’s Switch can protect or pass on your data and inform key persons of your untimely demise. You can set Dead Man’s Switch to perform a number of tasks if you don’t log on to your computer for a specified period of time. It can send out e-mail, encrypt or delete files, and post to web sites.

    Remember to reset the time allowed on the switch before you leave on vacation. You don’t want to scare anybody.
    —–
    Basically if you don’t reset it, it posts on forums and emails people etc to let them know you are gone. delete files, etc :)

  36. Daimbert says:

    @Gary

    This article seems to talk about things similar to what you were mentioning, and is fairly recent, oddly and conveniently enough:

    http://technology.canoe.ca/2009/08/05/10368466-cp.html

  37. Al Shiney says:

    Geez, and here I was thinking “Hey, this gives me a great idea for a small business” and several somebodies have already gone and done it. ;-)

    It’s sad that it took a family loss for you to start thinking about this Shamus, but I think we’re all richer for your post … and many of us have some things to get busy on.

  38. E N Z O says:

    Rather than just copying passwords and hoping someone gets them and just takes care of your account the historical way is using a multithreaded approach which relies on an observer to report back. The observer informs the needed parties and they can collectively or independently determine how best to handle the situation. Full documentation of such a “deadman switch” can be found here – start at :36 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEcvSq4SDkc

  39. Raju says:

    Looks like legacy locker was designed for this purpose.

    http://legacylocker.com/

    Its about time.

  40. Anon says:

    My cousin hanged himself last year. He still has a Facebook profile, gets automatically invited to events and has the odd new person add him as a freind. It is creepy but nobody even mentioned cleaning up removing his life online.

  41. Morely Dotes says:

    I keep a journal next to my PC. All of my account names, passwords, and the relevant URLs are written in it. I know, you’re never supposed to write down your passwords. WRONG! It’s in my office at home, which can be entered only through the house, and anyone who has physical access to your PC without supervision can own it in less than 5 minutes (I do it all the time, people forget their passwords so I “magically” reset the Administrator password to blank and log in and reset *their* password for them).

    My wife knows where the book is and what’s in it. My “adult” son in New Mexico will when he reads tonight’s email.

    This is like life insurance; it’s what you do for the people you love so that, *when* (not *if* dammit) you die, they will have that much less to worry about (And that much less for which to curse your memory, if you have dozens of accounts scattered around that your loved ones don’t normally pay any attention to).

    Of course, if I die in a fire in my office, it’s going to be that much more of a nightmare. I guess I’d better make a copy to put in the safe deposit box.

    Yes, paper still exists, and sometimes it’s still a good idea.

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