The recent and unexpected passing of my grandmother (she was the only 98-year-old I've known who could, and did, blindside hundreds with her death) opened my eyes to the fact that death in 2007 has become an online, interactive experience. The mortuary partnered with MeM.com to provide an "Everlasting Memorial," complete with a photo slideshow (which was displayed at the memorial service; this was in Silicon Valley, after all), still images, and guest book:
Customers have told us that one of the most cherished features of the Everlasting Memorial is the guest book section. This allows family and friends from around the world to send messages to share their thoughts and fond memories. To send a message, a loved one merely clicks on the "send message" button, and begins drafting their message. Once received, family approval is required prior to publishing to the web.
Of course, they upsell/make a number of "keepsakes" available to the bereaved.
The San Jose Mercury News, where we ran the obituary, partners with Legacy.com, a similar service. Nicer guestbook format; no slide show. This memorial isn't everlasting though, until some family member or other benefactor comes along to sponsor the (considerable) hosting fees.
Thus does the Live Web creep into all aspects of life and death. Even while the family is thinking of other, hopefully more profound things, these online communities of mourning — moderated to control, I suppose, disparagement and spam — spring into being at the hands of those on the business side of the death.
While I'm struck by the Web's increasing role in building communities around death, I'm equally struck by the willingness of the related enterprises to fleece the unsophisticated public. The "keepsake" prices, e.g., around $70 for a hardbound book, are quite high. (Compare QOOP's hardbound photobooks starting at $29.99.) Consider too the daily charge to run an obituary in the Mercury News:
- $9.75 per 31 character line, plus
- $117 per day to include a photo.
Assuming you're also charged for the spaces in your 31 character lines, that's roughly $850 per day for a 400 word obituary w/ picture. This brief blog post, also with picture (one I enjoyed, and hope you do too), is about that length already. It's clear obituaries are cash cows for the newspaper industry. What's not clear is how long people who can get the same information out to a larger audience for free or basically free online will continue writing those checks. One of my favorite Steve Jobs-isms, about the challenges they faced at the beginning of the personal computer era, seems particularly apropos here: "People couldn't type. We realized: Death would eventually take care of this."