A few weeks ago I got word that an old college friend had passed away quite unexpectedly. A mutual friend notified a group of us, as she learned by visiting his Facebook page that he was gone. None of us were close enough to be notified by the deceased's family, yet we all revered this man as one of the greatest hearts we'd ever met.
I immediately rushed to his Facebook page, which was still there and more active than ever. Friends and family had linked to dedications and obituaries and had been writing messages to him as if he was still here. While we knew that he was an inspiration to many -- a strong man with the most gentle nature -- I was blown away by the amount of people who had come to remember him. It was more moving than I was expecting.
So, after a sobbing phone call to a dear mutual friend, I started thinking about the bigger picture.
There's been a lot written about what happens to our social network presences after we die. As a matter of fact, my friend Adele McAlear has proposed a compelling South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) session on the matter it's so top of mind. But most of the existing discussions I've read circle around what happens to your intellectual property, who manages the accounts, etc. Legalities and technology questions aside, what happens to the online memory?
In the case of Facebook, they were already a step ahead. As a matter of fact Facebook director of security Max Kelly blogged just a couple weeks earlier about Facebook's feature that allows loved ones to report people as deceased so that the profile can stay on a site as a living memorial. Kelly said that the discussion of what to do with profiles postmortem came up after his best friend, a fellow Facebook employee, passed away four years ago.
"When someone leaves us, they don’t leave our memories or our social network," he wrote. "To reflect that reality, we created the idea of 'memorialized' profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who’ve passed."
The wall remains, as do photos, but Facebook removes other sensitive information and also ensures that the profile does not show up in the "suggestions" section of the news feed, and so on. It's just a small form, and it's somewhat hidden on the site, but could make the world of difference to someone wanting to memorialize a dear friend or family member.
What do you think of Facebook as a living memorial?