Things to Do on the Web When You're Dead
by David Blatner
david [at] afterlife.org
Perhaps it's telling of my Western-based culture that I was so surprised when a friend of mine asked if I would host his Web site after he died. I had simply not given any thought to the problem of what happens to a site after someone passes away or can no longer support it for health reasons.
This man had put several years of work into his web site, and it had become an archive of his life's musings and beliefs. He felt (and feels) strongly that this material should remain available to people after he is no longer around to share it, and there is no reason why this shouldn't be possible. The site takes up little space, requires no real maintenance, and holds a treasure-trove of wonderful writing that will probably never see its way into print.
I don't know how many elderly people or people with terminal illnesses are currently building Web pages, but I can only assume that the number is increasing and that within the next few years the "passing on" question will become one of significance. There are many important and emotional issues at stake here, as people's personal Web sites become repositories and reflections of who they are, and what they feel is important to share with others.
I believe that an international not-for-profit organization is called for. One to which people can bequest their web sites with the knowledge that the site will be available indefinitely to their loved ones and other interested parties. There are already some small commercial startups offering this kind of service, but Im more concerned about the people who won't be able to afford an expensive solution that requires trust funds and so on.
AfterLife is just such an organization. Over the past few months, several volunteers have been working together to address the concerns and issues of archiving web sites after their authors die. The effort is still very much in its developmental stage, and more volunteers are needed. Currently, Point of Presence Company (www.popco.com) has donated server space and bandwidth, and the organization is applying for tax-exempt status in the United States.
I was honored that my friend asked me to protect something so precious to him, and I willingly agreed. But I wonder how many peoples sites are simply being "turned off" when they no longer have a voice (or a checkbook) to sustain them. I keep thinking: If my grandparents had built a Web site, wouldn't I want it archived and available on the net in the years to come for my grandchildren?