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20/03/2014

Mortality Rates Among Digital Death Sites

On Thursday March 13th 2014, while Dr. Roey Tzezana and I were working on the paper we co-wrote and submitted, we needed a reference to something, so we went to my "Managing Your Digital Legacy" post. Going over the links, Roey said to me: "Some of these links are leading to dead ends, you know". - "Yeah, I should probably go over my lists and freshen it up a bit", I replied, and filed it in my head under "Important-but-not-urgent" list of things to do later. 

Three days later, on Sunday, March 16th 2014, I received an email from 'The Digital Beyond', in which Evan Carroll and John Romano wrote: 
"...One constant feature of our site is our Online Services List, which has grown to 61 different companies offering digital estate planning or online memorial services.
Following a few emails over the last few weeks, I decided to verify and clean up our list. Of the 61 companies on the list, I deactivated 26 because their website was no longer functioning or displayed that the domain name was now for sale. If you pardon the pun, that’s a mortality rate of 42%. ..."
So now it got interesting. 
Going over my own lists climbed up my ladder of priorities, cause I was now intrigued and wished to find out how many of the sites listed in my blog are still operational. 
  
"The Digital Beyond' compiles a single list, while I divide the sites into several lists according to their various uses (some sites appear in more than one list): 

So how many of the links in my lists have "perished"? 

On one hand, any business, startup, website etc. could go out of business and no longer be available to its clients, especially as this is a new, emerging, growing market, so we shouldn't be surprised when companies go out of business. We also mustn't forget that a lot of the companies which are no longer running offered free of charge solutions or services, so we mustn't really complain when we stopped getting something, if we were getting it for free, right?  

On the other hand, when such sensitive matters are at hand, and when a company is offering a service which to begin with should only come into being in the long run (hopefully), one can't help but wonder what happened to accounts stored in a service such as "Great Good Bye", who used to offer to have the "Memorial stay online for 20 years", or "Eternity Message", who used to offer to send out messages in predesignated dates in the future, "such as your daughter's sweet 16 Birthday, or your spouse's next milestone birthday (40, 70, etc.)". What happened to such messages stored in their archives? 

Does this mean the new, smaller companies will be less appealing to new potential clients, who might prefer using one of the bigger companies, such as PasswordBox, which acquired Legacy Locker, or SecureSafe (formerly known as Data Inherit), which acquired Entrustet, hoping these sites will still be around by the time they'll need them? 


On March 20th 2014 I asked Mickey Bergman, president and co-founder of Capsoole - one of the new players in this field: 
"Following the shutting down of several Digital Death related sites, and since Capsoole also offers services people will hopefully only need in the long run, what precautions do you take or what assurances do you give your clients?"  
He replied: 

"This is a very good and difficult question since most companies believe they are invincible, until they go down. 
At Capsoole we struggled with that issue from day one: how can We charge our clients for a service that they benefit from only in the future, while we are an early stage startup, that might not survive?
We decided to approach this on two levels:

  1. We built our core product in a simple structure and with very low maintenance costs, so that the threshold for sustainable survival of the company requires only 1,000 active users. In other words, as long as we have 1,000 users, we will be able to maintain the servers, data-base and functionality, even if the company is not lifting the way we believe it would. 
  2. We have not opened an option for 'lifetime' membership, only annual reoccurring fees. Once we are able to endow the company's sustainability, we will allow clients to sign up for lifetime membership. 
I am being very candid here. We try to be very honest with ourselves and our clients. The startup world is tough, and our market is not exactly ripe yet (meaning that potential clients are in denial about these things, and need to be incentivized in order to mainstream this field, like life-insurance). In other words, we do not fall under the illusion that Capssole is invincible, we try to recognize reality and build mechanisms that will secure the benefits to our clients, even if the company does not do well". 
I think we have to have digital solutions for digital problems. But these digital solutions bring a new set of problems which needs to be considered. After all, many of the people looking for virtual, digital and online eternal life, are wishing for it to be, you know, kind of eternal. 


October 2015 update: Another well-known site has shut down: Death Switch. Sad, and I wonder what happened to all the messages stored in it. Did the people who deposited it there manage to gather them back in the time slot allocated by the site for it? 



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