Communication Overtones: MyDeathSpace: Voyeurism Meets Social Media

Over on Communications Overtones Kami mentions a new site that is creepy (IMHO) – but I’m actually very interested in how we handle “dead data”.  Data either left behind because someone died, or perhaps it’s just an abandoned FaceBook account.  But how do we handle that data?  Do we (as site developers) simply delete it after X number of days? 

My comment there:

Kami – although I agree this is not tasteful, the basic premise is something I talk about almost every day. As a consultant in Social Networking startups I always asked my clients what happens to a customer’s data if the customer “dies”. Dies being in quotes because we may not actually know he/she is dead – we just know they haven’t logged in for X number of days.
But I try to get my customers to offer users the option of “what to do with my data if I don’t login for 180 days and fail to respond to email/SMS?”
It’s not a pleasant topic, and I certainly wouldn’t browse cyber-tombstones” on the web – but the basic question of “What do you want us to do with your data” is a very serious question that is only going to become more and more important (both personally and legally).
How about you? What happens to this data – your blog – if something awful happens? Your email addresses? The other Social Networking sites you have joined?
I would rather be able to choose than to not know. Some accounts I may want deleted (like my XBOX 360 gamer tag, for instance – nobody needs that when I am gone). But my Flickr account? I have unpublished pictured there that I would want family to see…
MyDeathSpace is an unpleasant (and unimportant) site, but maybe they will at least get this conversation about “dead data” out in the open. It’s a problem that needs solved.

It is an interesting question – and there really is no consensus on how to deal with it.

I can make a lot of suggestions – but I think some large site like MSN or Yahoo or Google will eventually solve this – perhaps even as an IEEE standard.  I don’t encourage my clients to dwell on this, or spend huge resources on it, but I do encourage them to at least think about it.  To put together a policy that describes when and what happens to your data if at some point you “appear dead” to them.

For many accounts, simply deleting the data is fine.  For others though, deleting the data may delete a significant work effort, personal memorabilia (Flickr, etc), or thoughts (blogs).

It’s something that deserves more attention than it is getting. is a map-based site that connects you to the MySpace profiles of the deceased. It includes the story about each person and the circumstances of their death.

Communication Overtones: MyDeathSpace: Voyeurism Meets Social Media


  1. deannie says:

    Based on a recent conversation on Twitter I came back to this post. Rob, like all things that are associated with us, we can direct the wrap up of our affairs after we are gone too. It isnt enough that my daughter knows to leave my ashes in an urn next to my mom in South Carolina, there are other documents I have in the folder that accompany my will. Like you, I actually care about my data. I would rather she do something with it responsibly than it just linger there like a strange ghost.