Webwill: Your digital identity after death

Just what happens to all this endless ‘stuff’ that we produce online after we’re no longer around to enjoy it? It was one of the topics of conversation recently when @faris was over in London and held an impromptu Beersphere. Which got me thinking, what if there was a way to pre-emptively update our Facebook page, our Twitter page, our blog and all the other online destinations we produce content for with a message. What would that message be and would we use it?

A new service which caught my eye is Webwill which prefaces with asking the question “How do you want to live your life online after death?” In one sentence it describes what it sets out to do, I like that. It’s not an easy thing to do. Ironically, it’s in Beta at the moment and on an invite only basis.

A couple of the facts they give in the video is that 1 in every 3 women in Sweden has their own blog and 850m photos are uploaded to Facebook every month. Over 10billion photos a year. What will happen to those photos in 10 years? Will they be as relevant?

It seems to have all come to the fore recently with Facebook recommending you to people you know who have passed away. Then ask the question, how would Facebook have known? These kinda measures need to be put in to place and I think something like Webwill could help to moving in the right direction to do that. It must be harrowing for someone to be recommended to reconnect with a friend or loved one no longer around. Check these posts out, first from Mashable not so long ago documenting ‘How to eliminate “dead friend” suggestions’ and second from Consumerist where Facebook were embroiled in a lengthy battle for this very reason and performed a u-turn on their own policy which states that “it was their policy to keep dead members profile’s in a “memorialized” state.”

Back to this whole notion of why we even have a desire to keep all these different profiles updated. We’re living for the era of now, so consumed in what we’re doing this minute and maybe not taking the time to enjoy the here and now because we’re too busy documenting it. (For when and for who?) Putting up pictures on Flickr, tweeting about it, writing a Facebook status update, telling people we don’t know on a chat room or forum what we’re doing.  This is important but all those little artefacts you put up online, stay online, indefinitely. It’s always something people seem to forget about when they engage in sometimes hugely libellous slanging matches online where an apology has to be made public or when emails containing conversations which shouldn’t have happened in print are written. Once it’s down on the online notepad, it’s permanent.

So with that morbidly futuristic post in mind check out the video below, pretty fascinating stuff.

myWebwill – in english! from Lisa Granberg on Vimeo.

Update – Here’s a video explanation from the founders via Venturebeat

13 Replies to “Webwill: Your digital identity after death”

  1. Hi Michael and everyone else!

    Really interesting to hear all your comments and thoughts about this subject. I am one of the founders of My Webwill and our main missions during the development of this service has been to bring up this subject into the light and make people think about it and discuss it. Most people haven’t even thought about this before and some people might think that it’s scary and unnecessary. But we believe that we are only seeing the very beginning of a subject that soon will be a natural part of administrating your online life. As many of you have mentioned above the managing of our online persona has several sides to it. You might have web content that you don’t want to continue living on in the afterlive and on the other hand you might have content that you want to live on. When our lives are as much digital as “real” it also means that some of our “real” things, like photos, only live in the digital world. I personally would want my future grandchildren to be able to see the photos that I might have shared on Flickr, because I don’t have them printed out in nice photo albums on the shelf anymore. But I would also like to shut down some parts of my online life, like Facebook. What we at My Webwill believe in is to offer people the possibility to choose, and offer a tool for that.

    Looking forward to further discussions and thoughts about this.

    Best regards
    Lisa

  2. This is a very interesting subject and a key part in managing ones online persona; I definitely believe that one should have a proper strategy in place that also forms part of a succession plan. It will be interesting to see how this develops. Thanks for sharing.

  3. The increasingly detailed record of our lives that we leave online isn’t just an issue for when people die, it’ll also have an interesting effect on children.

    Not only will they often be able to read back through their parents lives in detail (“You say I shouldn’t get drunk, but I’ve seen the photos of you on Facebook – and you were younger than me then!”), but as children grow up they’ll find much of their lives documented for others to see. It may be cute posting about your kid and their behaviour now, but what happens when they’re a bit older and they – and all their friends – start looking at the content?

    Webwill is an intriguing service, but it’s only one part of what will be a much bigger set of challenges to our social norms.

  4. Interesting topic. Personally I see the value in a service like Webwill where you can choose how your profiles and services are dealt with after you “move on.” It’ll be interesting to see how and if it deals with blogs and other websites, anything that would give you a say in what happens to public and personal properties like these would be useful, something I may even use myself. With many sites and profiles it remains to be seen how relevant they are a few years into the future, I can’t think of anything I personally have ever said or written that would be of much use to anyone in a few months, never mind a few years 😀

    In terms of things such as Facebook memorial pages, they’re not really for me, but people do certainly seem to be drawn to them, and it seems to transcend celebrity and notority.

  5. This is a very interesting topic and surprisingly something that I’ve sadly experienced with a professor from my college days that passed away after a long fight with cancer. He was heavily involved in social networks and led some online groups small communities.

    Once he passed there was those communities died with him because the role of admin in the social networks couldn’t be transferred to other members. An online will could have come in very handy and possibly helped save a thriving community from dying with it’s founder.

  6. Fascinating concept. I never really thought about it before, and even reading the blog post I thought it was a tad silly. After watching the video, I’m thinking it’s a pretty darn good idea. Gets you thinking.

  7. With Facebook using their service as a “memorial” when people die, and many blogs and Twitter accounts coming under the gaze of others and whether final posts and tweets should remain active or not, this is a great alternative that gives the choice to the person. As it should be.

  8. Michael,

    Fascinating post – it gives new meaning to the term lifetime internet memories. I’m sure as social media content proliferates, the need for services like webwill will increase. Something to really think about. Thanks,

  9. Wow what a topic. I think that social media platforms change and evolve. The old content will get left behind, like old myspace profiles and as they are no longer updated and search engines will make them less prominent. They will just fail to keep up. Note to self to setup a trust fund to maintain my virtual profile. 🙂

  10. I think this is a fantastic idea and, from a branding standpoint, superb. This is not the first I’ve heard of this concept and know of two other similar companies that exist. And I’m sure there are more. But, I think this makes terrific sense and imagine that as we continue to live our lives more and more online (in addition to in the “real” world) that these kinds of services will be more and more relevant and important to us.

    Thanks for sharing! Love it.

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