Browsing ahead

By MIKE MILIARD  |  December 26, 2007

It’s more that interfacing with Facebook has begun to feel like homework. Perhaps it’s my ever-advancing age, but my eyes literally cross as I scan my profile trying to figure out WTF I’m supposed to click on next. At last count, there were more than 10,000 add-ons available on the Facebook Platform. Anecdotal evidence suggests I’m not the only one with Facebook fatigue. Yes, some have predicted the site is worth perhaps $15 billion. And Wired magazine rhapsodized recently that its “social graph” innovation may have “defined the future of the Internet.” But on boingboing.net, Corey Doctorow predicted that the site’s imposition of “socially obligated ‘friendships’ ” would hasten its demise. And one commenter had another prognostication: “If Facebook partners up with any more of their patently ridiculous outside applications, they will collapse under their own weight.”

E-mails from beyond
On Wikipedia, there’s a page called Deceased Wikipedians, which features photos and remembrances of some of the site’s late contributors. There’s also one, ominously, called Missing Wikipedians. It lists dozens of people, known only by their screen names, who, for reasons unknown, haven’t been heard from in months. One user told me of a high-profile administrator who hadn’t posted anywhere since September, which is not like her at all. “People,” he said, “are getting very, very worried.”

As we spend ever more of our time on the Internet, the off-line pageant of life and death continues as it always has. It happens sometimes: folks you recognize from the online world only via a screen handle could die and you wouldn’t even know they were gone until you realized you hadn’t seen them proffer any Interweb wisdom in weeks. Back in 2005, one poster on a Red Sox message board headed to New Orleans to help with the Hurricane Katrina recovery. He then virtually disappeared for months. And months. And his e-brethren became concerned.

He turned out to be okay, thankfully. And we hope the Wikipedia admin will too. But in a world where friendships are forged and conducted entirely online, there is clearly a communication gap, in which those unable to log on (read: who have passed on) will leave their online friends wanting for info on their safety and well-being. Or there was such a gap, anyway, until a new wave of sites, including Letter from BeyondYouDepartedmyLastEmail, and Post Expression, were launched.

These sites, which the New York Times recently noted fill “a macabre niche in the online economy,” allow you to send “e-mails from the afterlife” (which you compose while you’re still breathing) to an address list of preselected contacts. Besides making it easy for the dearly departed to inform heirs about wills, insurance, and the like, the sites’ biggest draw may be the ability to let your online pals know why you’ll no longer be weighing in on the big games. As more and more people spend more and more time making more and more friends on more and more Web sites, expect these services to get more and more popular. As the motto for Post Expression puts it: “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

Ever more free stuff
Whether or not Radiohead’s ballyhooed pay-what-you-want scheme will impel hordes of other artists to take to the wilds of the Web and give away their shit via e-mail remains to be seen. My vote: don’t count on it.

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