Sunday, May 17, 2009

Personal websites - forever?

I had known Dan Kliman a number of years.  I never met him, but knew him from an email list, Facebook, and perhaps some other social networking sites.

Then I heard the terrible news:  Dan died mysteriously in November 2008.  He was 38.

I waited for Facebook to remove his page.  But of course they didn't:  No one told them he was gone, and even if they had, Facebook would probably not remove it unless the owner told them.  (Yahoo had a similar policy:  Even if you were accidentally locked out of logging in to your profile, the profile would remain, although I suspect Yahoo's recent change to personal profiles might have eliminated many of those orphan profiles.)

So at least on Facebook, Dan "lives" on.

Since genealogy is one of my hobbies.  I was struck by the similarity of gravestones to web pages.  A gravestone functions not only as the marker for a decedent, but as a brief opportunity for them or their family to provide a few words of identity ("Susan Smith, born...died..."), of relationships ("Beloved mother, sister..."), and the occasional summary phrase ("She was a friend to animals and men" was what I recently saw on a gravestone).

Does the web have a corollary to a gravestone - a permanent marker to an individual?

The vestiges we see on Facebook have no guarantee of permanency.  Presumably, in a few years' time, Facebook (like Yahoo has apparently done) will decide it needs to clear up some of the space alloted to profiles not logged in recently, and clear them out.

I don't think there is a permanent online graveyard.  Like cemeteries, the owners of such a site would need to montetize the investment (many older cemeteries in New York City have cleared away gardening and now use the land for interments, in part to raise their assets).  And their mission statement would need to guarantee that successive owners/investors maintain the site in perpetuity.

Perpetuity.  In the web's fast-moving and fast-developing world, that seems almost like an imposssibiliy.  So it'll be interesting to see if anyone comes up with a graveyard for the web.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unlike gravestones, however, to avoid spam marketing many of us have phantom identites online that will also live on forever. Sort of like a City Directory that had to be 300 pages to be profitable so they add in a few hundred bogus names to fill it out. It makes documenting the source (and reliability) of information even more important than it was in the paper era.