Saturday 27 March 2010

Online After-Life

During a person's life his or her presence online keeps changing. Blog posts, tweets, status updates, forum discussions, video clip collections, personal web pages and a lot of other services keep reflecting the person until suddenly, when he or she dies, that presence freezes and becomes a historical reference to the person's life. Some parts of the mark will be erased soon. For example if the person who died had a web hotel that kept a site up, the web hotel will be quick to close down that page once the payments stop.

What happens to other things then? A lot of free services exist on servers around the Internet. There your profile will possibly exist for a very long time if the service provider does not have a policy of removing inactive accounts.

As an example, lets say a person who has a Facebook account dies. All activity on his or her profile will stop. The last status update will be saved as a memory of the person (hopefully something good). All connections will be left, as long as people on the other end do not remove them. The profile will be frozen. If Facebook lives on, after a while some of the contacts will die and there will be a frozen subnet containing profiles of dead people. More and more people will die, at some point resulting in profiles that are not connected to anyone living anymore, thus creating islands which are never or rarely visited. All the time more people will sign up to use Facebook, but there can never be more people signing up than dying or leaving. This means at some point the number of dead people represented on Facebook will surpass that of the living people. Facebook will always contain memories of the people that passed away, even though they will be hidden from new users who only connect to living friends.

The same process takes place all around the web, memories of our lives being saved. Just as in life we probably overestimate the impact that online presence has, but at least we will not be around to be disappointed!

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