Evan Carroll and John Romano’s Your Digital Afterlife (2011) tackles an uncomfortable subject, but it also provides plenty of reasons that it’s important to do so.
You’ve probably all seen examples of people — and spammers — continuing to write on a dead person’s Facebook wall, or an unfortunate last tweet (one guy’s last word, “w00t!!!”, has been at the top of his page for a couple of years now). Carroll and Romano offer advice on how to avoid these problems.
First of all, they suggest, because laws haven’t caught up with practices yet, we all need to document our wishes about the digital legacy we leave behind, just so loved ones know what you prefer. If a site has monetary value, it will need to be included in your will, but even if it’s just sentimental value, it will be important to somebody. They provide a detailed plan, which starts with making a list of all of your sites and devices: the name, how to access it (who should do so and how), and your wishes (archive, share, delete, leave it up).
Of course, different sites have different ways of handling death; most include this subject in the terms of service. Facebook can memorialize accounts (no new friends are added, but current friends can post on the wall); Twitter allows family members to remove the account or save public tweets; Gmail and Yahoo! require a death certificate and documentation of legal authority for someone to be able to take over the account.
It turns out that there are even sites that help you designate who should get your digital assets. The authors mention LegacyLocker.com, Entrustet.com, and DataInherit.com as examples.
They also discuss posthumous messaging — a goodbye blog post (I saw this one recently), or an email that should be sent to people — and online memorials (MyWonderfulLife.com, Online-Legacy.com, and Bcelebrated.com) which allow people to share their grief and memories of you.
I haven’t even looked at the sites mentioned here, so I’m not linking to them, but I do recommend considering your digital legacy.
Disclosures: I borrowed this book from my local public library, and this review is cross-posted at Teaching PR.