In a move that highlights how your digital persona and social profile is becoming as important a family heirloom, Facebook has enabled "legacy contacts" to manage your profile page after you die.
The feature goes a long way to clarifying the handoff of digital identities after a person dies. We all know of people who have passed away yet seemingly have active Facebook pages based on various feeds being passed around.
Facebook's new approach allows for a contact such as a family member or friend to manage an account. Once a person passes away -- and Facebook is notified -- the social networking giant will memorialize the account.
Legacy contacts can write a post for the top of a timeline, respond to friend requests and update profile pictures and cover photos.
If given permission by the person who has passed the legacy contact can download an archive of photos, posts and profile information. The designated contact won't be able to log in or see messages from the person who passed away.
Another option is that people can have their Facebook account deleted after death.
Facebook is rolling out the features in the U.S. and then will expand.
Facebook's move is likely to act as a template for other networks and sites to follow. After all, when someone dies it's often a mess unraveling various email accounts, sites, social networks and other virtual connections.
It's not a stretch to see Google, Yahoo and other tech players with communication tools enabling a legacy contact approach.
In the long run, what will really be interesting to see is how many people wind up with memorialized accounts over deleted ones.
Although a memorialized Facebook page serves a purpose it could be one that seems odd over time---say a decade or more. Will virtual tombstones become as important as the real ones?
The other looming question is what happens to these memorialized accounts should Facebook wither. No sane person would make that argument today, but network effects can move both ways.
The bottom line is that Facebook's legacy contact option is a good one and should be emulated by other services.