7:38 PM

Death, Porn and Digital Legacy

That's right - I said it.

That nasty little word that is riddled with emotion and sometimes wrought with controversy: death. It was the focus of Adele McAlear’s session, “Death and Digital Legacy”, at the Mesh Conference today in Toronto. I’ll be honest; when she dropped the ‘p’ word, stating that everyone needs a “porn buddy”, that's when her session came to life. In that dreaded post-lunch time slot, no one was dozing - she had everyone’s undivided attention.

Porn buddy? Really?

The context is an old school, pre-internet reference: if something (god forbid) were to happen to you – such as death or debilitation – that you had a buddy who would take care of your porn stash before your parents found it. Hence, porn buddy.

Fast-forward to this digital era characterized with social media and the pervasive distribution of user-generated content. The concept of your porn stash has evolved and is now online, shared, linked, and exponentially growing with each subsequent Tweet, Status update, Wall post and photo upload. There’s the usual suspects - your website and various social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blog sites, etc. What about Paypal, eBay, Flikr, Picasso, Google, Yahoo, MSN, YouTube, and the magnitude of others….? What happens to these accounts and the associated stash of content if something happens to you? Do you have a designated porn buddy tasked with taking care of your online presence?

I don’t know anyone who tracks his or her various accounts and passwords, let alone in one consolidated place. Or who even tells someone about it all. Adele makes a good point: if a death occurs, who is the designated digital porn buddy – what she calls a ‘Digital Executor’ – who will take care of the content, assets, artifacts and accounts?

I am far from an online e-lebrity nor have a significant following on Twitter, but some of you do. I don’t have an eBay store or generate revenue using PayPal – you might. I also don’t have the next Pulitzer Prize winning manuscript, World of Warcraft Hack or other content that would be deemed invaluable to some. You might. So who is your digital executor, what are your final wishes for these digital assets/accounts and where do you document and store this information?

Take this a step further into the workplace. Many corporations set up Slideshare, Scribd, Facebook, Twitter and the countless online accounts where employees register using their corporate email address. Let’s not be dramatic and say these employees die; simply that they’re no longer with the company. Who is the porn - ahem - I mean Digital Executor when he/she is no longer with the company? Where is this account information? What happens to the related content assets and artifacts when they leave? Who even knows the extent of all the accounts that employees have associated with their corporate email address? Just because you’ve turned off their network access and disabled their email account doesn’t mean that these social sites terminated them as well. And while we hope that people exercise good judgment and don’t go off on some social slander campaign using a corporate ID account – as the old adage says, hope is not a strategy.

What does this strategy even look like? A corporate social media and blogging policy is a good start - does yours include more than the obligatory guidelines covering etiquette and not dropping the eff-bomb? If it doesn't - it should. Does it state that corporate domain accounts need to be discontinued once the employee leaves the company? Does an employee need to log or register the accounts that are based on a corporate ID?

Policies are nice in theory but the devil is in the details: how can a company track this? Who is responsible for auditing and monitoring any of this and the magnitude of content generated from it? What does enforcement entail? Can it be enforced? Who is the corporate digital executor once they are gone?

Thanks Adele for discussing death, porn and digital legacy. It certainly provoked me into thinking beyond our personal need for a Digital Executor and questioning how the corporate world will approach this. I'm not proclaiming to have answers and for those of you reading this - I’m interested to hear your thoughts and how you plan to personally - or from a business perspective - address these questions.

Adele McAlear: http://www.adelemcalear.com
Mesh Conference: http://www.meshconference.com/