Quest for the Digital Fountain of Youth Awakens “After Life Technology”

Apple WorldImagine your great-grandchildren interacting with your likeness on a daily basis, all derived from your Facebook media, Vine videos and your personality from your Tweets.

Humans, both poor and rich have continued to seek out the greatest quest since the dawn of mankind; how do we stay alive in this world?  Fortunately, (or not fortunately) new technologies are emerging both now, including some fascinating developments by leading think tanks, including Stanford.


[After Life Technology emerges to store, replicate, and even reanimate the deceased based on the digital data we're emitting every day]

Whether you find it creepy, narcissistic, or a thoughtful way to connect with future-generations, this is a choice we’ll all be forced to reckon with. Should we shutter accounts? Allow them to be memorials, with or without comments? Allow data to be used to digitally reanimate us? There’s even impacts to corporations, as employees who are public in social channels who will eventually leave this plane, and a communications plan will need to be erected to deal with both the grief at a human way, but also how their personal, or hybrid (work/personal), or corporate social media accounts will be used.

[Even employers need to plan an after-life policy for employees using personal social media for business purposes]

Scenario Matrix: Deceased Employee used Personal Social Accounts for Work Purposes
Currently, Altimeter has found that there are hundreds of employees in many companies using personal social accounts for work. We also find that corporate accounts blend and merge with personal accounts, making the blue between personal and work, sometimes indistinguishable. The following matrix breaks down some likely scenarios that could occur:

Scenario Details Ramifications
Family of deceased mandates content to be removed IP created at work is owned by company, yet employee may have used personal social accounts IP created at work is often owned by company but now as people use personal social accounts, who owns?
Deceased employee has content set to publish on timer Deceased employee has content on timer, set to publish in coming weeks, potentially conflicting with announcement strategy, messaging and general confusion. Does company have ability or right to alter settings or access login credentials?
Digital reanimation efforts on former deceased employee A digital reanimation company seeks to activate likeness of former employee, including using content created around workplace IP ownership at question, including potential monetization of reanimate likeness
Family requests social media accounts The family requests access to social media accounts, except they were created at work, and span both personal and work life Questions cause legal action due to IP, personal information rights, privacy, with variations at every country
Family has access to corporate social media accounts Using Lifelocker, the deceased has turned over access to social accounts that deceased employee used during work. Ownership is not clear, as the account spans personal and professional usage.

While immature, there are several impacts to society, business, family, law that should give us all pause to consider, here’s a running list of what I’ve observed:


Impact to Society

Impact to Individuals
Impact to Family
Impact to Employers
  • Corporate Social Media Policies Post-Life: While I don’t see much online, companies must also develop social media policies on how hybrid accounts (personal accounts that are branded with company, like (LionelAtDell) will be used, or not used.  Could public social media content created at work be used by third parties including the family, or future digital reanimation companies?
  • Most employment contracts indicate that all content created at the company (on company networks, or software) is owned by the company. What right does a company have to use that public facing social media content, after an employee passes on?
Impact to Social Networks
Future Tech: Digital Reanimation
  • Future: I visited the Stanford Virtual Reality lab last month, and was able to hear from the Professors who have a simulated lab that they’re already starting to experiment with aggregating Facebook photos to recreate faces.  They could easily do this for the deceased.
Technology Providers
  1. Legacy Locker:  Allows for the loved ones of a deceased to manage the social media accounts, ecommerce accounts, banking accounts, and more, through a one-stop management tool.
  2. _LivesOn:  Slated to launch soon, this tool would provide Tweets post-life for deceased to communicate with those around them based on analysis of your existing twitter content and behaviors.
  3. Microsoft Research is conducting an experiment called Life Bits and is capturing an individuals full life on digital record, to understand how to use this technology in a number of methods
  4. LifeNaut.com was created to help people build a rich profile of information that preserves their essential, unique qualities for future generations and family members.

A New Industry Will Slowly Emerge to Digitally Reanimate The Deceased
Expect a new industry to emerge that offers the following services:  Estate planners factor in social media accounts, and blogs and websites, as part of the estate.  New software emerges to allow people to opt-in to have themselves digitally communicating with their future kin for generations. In a few short years, expect new virtual reality and simulation software to aggregate and analyze a deceased photos/videos from social networks, and replicate their face, mannerisms, in a way we are most familiar with.  In the not-so-radical future, expect that future generations will be able to have the capability to replicate you in a virtual manner, based on the digital trails we’re leaving behind by the gigabyte.

Assume technology will advance to digitally reanimate us, individuals, families, officials, employers must plan for this inevitable future now.

(Photo Credits used under Creative Commons by Raffaello)

  • http://twitter.com/Greeblemonkey Aimee Giese

    I have advised clients to have such a policy, for death and more likely, leaving the company. My advice has been to consult with the executive team, their lawyers and HR to make a decision what the company stance on this is and place a simple line or two about it in the employee handbook. The truth is, the answer is not unilateral. A large corporation may decide it’s best to terminate the account. A small startup may decide that the personality of the individual is what was the driving force and allow the employee to take the account, albeit changing the name, with them.. Or in the case of death, allowing the family to make the decision about the account while requiring them to change the name. Either way, it’s best to have a conversation about it and get the company policy on record.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Thank you Aimee. Curious to find out what most legal teams said. For corporations that are hinging on a founder’s personal name/face/persona this creates some unique twists.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Joyce, can you please keep me updated for our research? Would be happy to cite you in our work. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://socmediafin.com Joyce Sullivan

    Jeremiah, of course. Let me know best format for sending. Post here or email?

  • http://twitter.com/AtlantaSnoop Adam Lazzara

    I am having a difficult time understanding why any company would want to continue to use the likeness of a passed individual even if it is a “Hybrid” social account like LionelAtDell. Sure, the following and social reach that the deceased individual has gained for their company with social/hybrid accounts can be huge. Does it offset the risk of people discovering that “BobAtCompany” is dead yet his former employer is still driving marketing through his hybrid account worth it? Seems like a risky proposition.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    jeremiah at altimetergroup dot com thank you!

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Adam, think of a founder at a company where the leader has become the face of the brand: Richard Branson, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs. Each of these personas have brand equity, valued in the millions.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Related comment from the smart Neil Raden

    Neil Raden ‏@NeilRaden
    @jowyang The Bios Urn. Do you want to be a tree when you die?http://vimeo.com/m/53136221

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    I noticed a few of the websites were also down. Seems like that bubble popped. As boomer generation continues to enter retirement, we may see some digital estate planning growth.

  • http://twitter.com/jtoeman Jeremy Toeman

    Adele is very right – the industry is growing at a snail’s pace – at best. As the founder of Legacy Locker, I can tell you that there (1) is a business but (2) it’s not earth-shattering and (3) the only “bubble” was caused by an inordinate amount of bloggers ruminating on the topic.

    That said, still very proud to have our service still up and running several years later, still getting amazingly positive customer feedback and emails all along.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Jeremy, Software or not, companies must wrestle with the impacts of IP as personal and work content in social have intertwined.

  • http://twitter.com/AtlantaSnoop Adam Lazzara

    Jeremiah, that makes complete sense and completely agree with you but wouldn’t the scope of such a corporate policy extend downward in the organization. My thinking is with the customer services team members that interact on social channels with their customers for example: @BobComcastCares or @HomeDepotHolly (both fictional aliases) Should brands continue to operate as @BobComcastCares simply because of his digital brand equity?

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  • Seth @ FBT

    This is truly a very intriguing post. The impact of technology on the our day to day lives has been huge and it is definitely reanimating us right now.

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