Digital Estate Planning

This article originally appeared in 24hrs Vancouver on May 14, 2008.

San Miniato CemetaryThe latest incarnation of the internet is all about user generated content. Websites are places where we gather, but we are the ones producing the material that keeps us coming back. But what happens to all that content when we die? I mean, you can’t take YouTube with you.

We have wills to handle our money, our heirlooms and physical estate, but what about our ever increasing digital one?

There have been some tragic losses in the broadcasting fraternity recently, and the Facebook profile pages have become gathering sites for friends and family to mourn. A digital epitaph – but how long will they last?

Facebook’s official policy on profiles of those who have died says they will “generally, but are not obligated to, keep the user’s account active under a special memorialized status for a period of time determined by us to allow other users to post and view comments.”

In other words, the pages will stay up for a while, but not forever.

Flickr, a popular photo sharing site, has reserved the right to terminate an account due to inactivity, but has yet to do so. As loupiote posted in the Flickr forums, “it’s scary to think that one day, in 70 years or so, all of the millions of Flickr users will actually be dead.”

But the photos will live on.

If you can make plans for your own personal website after you pass, it too can live on.

andrew olmsteadMajor Andrew Olmsted was an American soldier who blogged from the front line in Iraq. In July of 2007, he handed a post to a friend to put at “just in case.”

In January, Maj Olmsted was killed by sniper fire, and his friend uploaded one “final post.”

“This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits,” it reads. “As with many bloggers, I have a disgustingly large ego, and so I just couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to have the last word if the need arose. “

Andrew’s website, full archive of blog posts and his final post remain online for his family to visit – forever? That depends on whether or not Andrew someone who will continue to make sure the site hosting bill is paid, and the domain name is renewed. As it stands now, is set to expire in April next year.

Post-chemo Derek 1Derek K. Miller has been thinking about this notion of a digital executor recently as well. His web footprint includes music, photos, podcasts, and enough blog entries to “double the word count of War and Peace,” he told the CBC show, Spark, recently.

Derek is fighting cancer and while he has no intentions of moving on any time soon, the fight has given him pause to ponder what will happen to his online media whenever he does move on.

“If I were to disappear today, how long would those last?,” he told Spark. “Well, they’d last until the next bill comes up, and unless I’ve told somebody how to maintain this, it’s going to disappear.”

Derek ponders a scenario where the keys to your digital legacy are kept in a safety deposit box. At the appropriate time, the passwords, backup files, final posts, web host information and further instructions would be passed on to your digital executor to maintain.

One reason Derek thinks about his digital legacy, is the lack of one his grandfather left behind. He died after the war in Germany and Derek has seen just 2 photos of him, and knows little else.

“It would be nice if there was more,” he said on the show. “I have a lot more, and I’d like it to stick around.”


  • Civic elections aren’t until the fall, but that hasn’t stopped high school student Paul Hillsdon from taking his Surrey Council candidacy to the web. Paul is an avid blogger who plans to turn Surrey into “a sustainable urban hub of Western Canada for the 21st century.”
  • Try ordering an iPhone from the online Apple Store this week and you’ll find them “out of stock.” Valleywag is reporting a second generation iPhone announcement is expected on June 12. Is that when Rogers will launch the iPhone in Canada?
  • Think blogging is just for the kids and nerds? Think again. Red Robinson is in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, has a show theatre named after him and was the first DJ to play rock n roll on the radio in Canada, not to mention he hung with everyone from Elvis to the Beatles. Last week Red added the title of “blogger” to his resume.
  • If you have a first, second or third generation iPod gathering dust in a drawer, hang on to it. A class action lawsuit has been settled on the basis the battery life in the early editions didn’t live up to promises. Apple Canada Inc. has promised a $45 online store credit to the users as compensation.
  • Next week is Vancouver’s Digital Week. VIDFEST 2008, the Vancouver International Games Summit (VIGS), Convergence 2008 and the PopVox Awards – The Peoples Choice Awards for Digital Media will all be ongoing at various venues across town.

catch the buzz… pass it on.



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