Does Social Media Survive Its Creator?

Earlier this week, I read Mathew’s blog post pointing to Ethan’s piece about the far-too-soon death of Mark Hoekstra. Ethan writes:

The thing about Mark’s death: I did not know him, but I do know everything that was “last” in his too short life. I know the last song he listened to was Instant Death by the Beastie Boys. I know that last saw him Monday evening. He has a cat, whom I hope is taken care of. Five days ago he posted a picture of a Cisco Aironet he got from Ebay. He has nephews.

This sad news reminded me of a resource that, as far as I know, the web is missing. What happens when a social media creator dies? What do his or her less web-savvy friends and family do about the online portion of the deceased’s life? There are two kinds of questions that need answering:

  • What do we do with all of the social media assets–blogs, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Facebook pages, and so forth–that are left behind? Do we keep them online, archive them offline or just delete everything?
  • Once we’ve figured that out, how do we make that plan happen? What are the postmortem policies of sites like Facebook or MySpace? How do we realize our plans for these assets? Who do we contact?

Someone ought to build a site (or even just host a wiki) that helps people answer these questions. It would be a guide to thinking about posthumous social media stuff, and a centralized catalog for the relevant policies of social media sites. Does such a website exist already?

Curating Digital Resources of the Deceased

It doesn’t need one, but there’s probably a business model for such a site. It would involving consulting for grieving families as a kind of digital mortician. I first wrote about that idea back in 2003, but the ubiquity of social media makes it a lot more urgent and widespread today.

I know that there are a bunch of memorializing sites out there (here’s an Irish one I recently heard about), but I don’t know how well they handle distributed blogs, videos, photos and so forth. I imagine that they’re mostly built after the fact. Likewise, I know certain sites enable a kind of permanent remembrance setting for accounts. Facebook faced some controversy about this before implementing this approach.

On a related note, bloggers, podcasters and other social media creators should include digital assets in their wills.

On Mark’s site, a friend has posted this message:

With Marks passing away, the future of this site has become uncertain. While we are sure the site will remain online for a considerable time to come, we are looking for a proper way to honour Mark and his assembled works.

I’d like to end this sombre post on an upbeat note, so here’s a charming song about the potential longevity of your MySpace account:


  1. By the way, as often is the case, because that song is in the second person (“I hope that you forget about your MySpace”), it sounds a bit too churlish and mean. It would be funnier and even more charming if it were first person (“What if I forget about my MySpace?”).

  2. I’d also been wondering about the lifespan and archiving of content on behalf of friends. They keep a tumblr blog of the very hilarious things their toddler says. What happens later, when they stop, or when she grows up, or tumblr dies? I find the content so precious…

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