#Deathbook : Post(s) Mortem of Social Media,
Online Content and Digital Rights Management

WORK IN PROGRESS (THIS IS CURRENTLY DRAFT AND REMAINS UN-EDITED AND UN-CHECKED – need to add more DRM and online media distribution and licensing details… creative commons and the fact BBC are developing their own version of Creative Commons…): — For the past few years, I and a…

WORK IN PROGRESS (THIS IS CURRENTLY DRAFT AND REMAINS UN-EDITED AND UN-CHECKED – need to add more DRM and online media distribution and licensing details… creative commons and the fact BBC are developing their own version of Creative Commons…):

For the past few years, I and a few others have been asking questions like:

“What would happen to your email account, Facebook profile and Flickr photos if you were hit by a bus tomorrow?”

More and more people regard going online as a normal part of their daily activities (this is rising day by day, month on month and year on year), the Social Media Trends Map (and number of Web 2.0 services) grows daily and mobile internet use is set to triple by 2014 (Apples iPhone and iTouch already account for 3% of user traffic to BBC iplayer online TV).

As all of these trends increase, so do the numbers of social networks and mobile applications incorporating Web 2.0 compatible features; leading to a rapidly increasing number of media creators, digital content producers, bloggers (including micro-bloggers) and citizen journalists.

This digital evolution/revolution brings with it an increased number of User Accounts (including email addresses and user profiles across popular sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and Bebo to name but a few; as well as business specific services such as LinkedIn).

As these technologies become ever closer to our fingertips, and as business, government, education and mainstream media (such as TV and news) adopt Social-Media Channels into their own communications, brands and communities (not just in the western world but also in the developing world) we’ll undoubtedly see further increases in the amount of digital content and data being produced and published (Eg. emails, blog posts, tweets, photos/pictures, audio recordings, videos, friends lists, favourites and bookmarks), plus more account based information generated such as online analytics, databases holding content such as event attendee details, rss subscriber lists, as well as such things as social network graphs and demographics).

All of the above has the ability to bring people together in conversation, education and collaboration which can be extremely empowering, positive and rewarding but it also raises many questions and concerns which I believe many of us are not taking seriously, or even considering.

The impact and sustainability of such technologies and infrastructures is truly a massive topic and one which goes far beyond the environmental impacts of energy consumption for google searches, efficiency of data storage and throw away aesthetic of mobile phones; in all likelyhood we’ll realise the true consequences of our current stupidity within the next five years – without having reliable statistics to hand it’d like to suggest that the population crisis we are currently facing (roughly 40% of the UK population are nearing Pension Age and this will probably increase to almost 60% within the next 20 years) will look like a drop in the ocean when compared to the amount of costly unused/archived/dead data of the future – all of which will need to be paid for in regards to storage and potential usage licensing.

As some of you may know, I buy domain names like some women reportedly buy shoes – and yes I’m looking at you PoppyD ‘-)

Back in 2007 I purchased the domain http://Deathbook.info (currently unused). At the time I didn’t know exactly why I felt compelled to hit the purchase button but over time it has become clear.

In 2008 I attended a BarCamp Brighton presentation on Death and Social-Media by Paul Silver where he raised and discussed some of the questions I’d been pondering (and continue to ponder) surrounding digital assets/rights management, online identity and its potential failing long-term:

If you die in the UK, your next of kin is given a death certificate. This is an official document notifying that a particular individual has died. To close bank accounts, sort out council tax, utility bills and credit accounts, you use the certificate to show a person has really died. This sort of paperwork is not a pleasant thing to deal with when you’re grieving for a loved one, but at least all the organisations you’re dealing with have policies and procedures to follow. What about websites and online assets?


Even with the introduction of OAuth and OpenID, many websites and services still use e-mail addresses to register, subscribe and login. However, the long-term problem with domains is that they’re rented, rather than bought. At some point, if you don’t renew it or perhaps even die, someone else will undoubtedly purchase your old domain (Eg. paulsilver.co.uk). Lets face it, their name will probably be Paul Silver and their e-mail address paul@paulsilver.co.uk. Presuming this, that person will find it very easy to gain access to lots of sites ‘Paul Silver’ registered with, because he used that email address to do so. If they try to register with that address, they may be told they’ve registered before, and then they can use the ‘forgotten password’ facility to get a password for the site. Suddenly, they’re Paul Silvers alias on the site. They can change the profile, delete old messages, see friends lists if it’s that sort of site, and so on – all on an account that isn’t technically theirs. This also leads to emails being delivered to the wrong recipient of the same name.

Since Paul’s talk I’ve heard various people discussing related topics and there’s even been services launched such as LegacyLocker.com and DeathSwitch.com that aim to solve some of the problems. (TechCrunch even wrote an article on LegacyLocker).

The topic continues to grow in momentum, with discussions and on topic presentations appearing everywhere; and although I can’t discuss (and don’t know specifics) I’m aware of at least one related UK start-up that’s attracting VC interest.

In 2010 (March 12th-16th) Austin Texas will be host to SXSW Interactive – five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology. There is a long list of proposed talks and presentations submitted towards a public vote but I’m slightly concerned that only one appears to explore this topic:

‘Posts Mortem’ – aims to address some of the larger, wider and as yet un solved issues of the increasing digital economy. Proposed by Adele McAlear

In support of Adele’s proposed presentation and in line with the growing adoption of social media and mobile related technologies by government, business, education and society – whilst recognizing the principles and initiatives of such movements as RebootBritain, OpenRightsGroup and BootCycle – I’d like to make deathbook.info an available home for a #Deathbook Campaign to increase awareness, encourage discussion and inspire government lobbying for much needed consideration, policy, understanding and transparency surrounding the topic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts =)

PS: Don’t forget to vote for Posts Mortem


Leave a comment  •  3 comments


Hiya :)

I do like the idea of being able to store away a momento/message to leave friends and family when i die. Being a techie though I wonder how feasible it is however to maintain the playability of the data when the time comes. Some data formats are sure to become dodos and whilst a company has preserved the data, will they also take on the responsibility of being able to make sure that it can be played back?

A good topic. I never thought about lapsing domains until you brought it up. I'll have to think some more on that :)




Scott Evans

This is great stuff Carl - a topic that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. I cannot help but feel we are making many mistakes in the digital realm. Related issues: the cloud (centralised distribution, we know how well that works with food and monocropping), lifespan of data and of course learning to clean up after ourselves.

How many of us still have accounts on networks that are long forgotten? (Friends Reunited anyone?).

I have a couple of statistics that might be of interest here:

1. 20 Hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute - Source.

2. 850 million photos are uploaded to Facebook each month, costing an estimated $100 million for servers each year and $1 Million for electricity each month - Source.

This mountain of data will eventually become a problem - its simply not sustainable.

The ability to be able to share pictures, video and text with people across the world in seconds is no doubt beneficial to humanity - but how useful are pictures of "Dave" drunk at last years Christmas party. They may be interesting/entertaining soon after the event but in the long term they loose the little value they had.

Will we soon have to consider data relevance and expire data that is considered valueless? and who can make such a call?

I'm off to delete my Flickr account :)


Adele McAlear

Carl, you bring such a great perspective to this discussion and I thank you for your support of my SXSW panel submission. You can be sure I'll be following your work with this!