At Feisworld, we have been waiting to write about this subject for a while now. What happens to your creative work (blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, books, and other digital content) after you are gone?
Be my guest, take a look on Google and you will likely find information that’s barely touching the surface. In this article and a series of content we’ll be writing and exploring, I’d like to open up this long-waited conversation on what we need to understand now to better preserve our legacy as content creators.
To do this, we need to understand the different aspects of digital after life planning. There are so many terms and definitions around this subject that can be quite confusing to people who aren’t actively thinking and planning for this.
To clarify, digital after life planning for content creators goes above and beyond just sharing passwords and updating your status on social media with a digital executor. A digital executor, by the way, “is a digital will executor — or simply “digital executor” — is the person you name in your will to manage your digital property after you pass. They’re like an executor of a will, who distributes your physical property and money, but focused on your digital media and accounts.”
If this is the first time you hear about this, there’s no need to panic. As it turned out, less than 50% of adult Americans have will prepared. Needlessly to say, many people including creators have not thought about a digital executor, and assume it will be reserved as part of end-of-life decisions (if someone’s kind and knowledgeable enough to bring it up).
You see, we have a problem here. A big problem for content creators who spend their lives creating content as a significant part of their legacy. Yet, there is very little information and processes that support the continuation of a creator’s content. We feel the urge to open up the discussion and then come up with some practical solutions. Don’t you?
What Happens to Your Content Beyond Your Lifetime?
Let’s break it down in plain and simple language here.
If you have a podcast that’s hosted on a paid hosting platform and when the payment stops, your RSS feed will no longer be active. Worse yet, your content won’t be archived for long after that.
The same goes for your website. Most people host their websites on services such as Squarespace and WordPress. You will need to assign a digital executor to take over the ownership of your website and make sure she has admin access including billing to continue to pay for these services. It gets a bit more complicated with WordPress as it can be connected to a few or more plugins that also need to be updated regularly and paid for.
Logins and payments aren’t the full picture. There are other hoops to jump through including different policies per platform. Your digital executor will have to review each requirement, submit necessary information, and then follow up to complete the tasks. Maintaining one’s digital legacy is an ongoing effort and not a one-time deal. A digital executor may or may not feel prepared or have the expertise to take care of extensive planning and execution on her own. A thinking partner and a support team are essential in getting this done right.
Preserving Your Content is Even More Important Than You Think
Protecting and preserving your digital legacy is more important than making your family and followers happy. Soon enough, content created by human beings will become scarce.
In 2021, less than 1% of the data was created using generative technologies. Gartner predicts that by 2025, 10% of the data created on the Internet will be created using Generative AI technologies, and there are predictions that say that by 2030, 90–99% of the data on the internet will be created with the help of Generative AI technologies.
Podcasts created, blog posts written and videos recorded by humans will be 1% of the content on the internet in less than 7 years. If we don’t do our part to preserve the original content that’s created by people, we can’t reproduce or recover them later.
This is something we need to think about as creators. It’s a responsibility and an obligation to current and future generations.
The Not-So-Basics Nature of Digital Estate Management
Digital after life is a multidisciplinary endeavor. Our current system and processes do not make it easy. We need to understand how it works today so that we can make better and more informed decisions in the future. Even better if we can build a system that ease the transition, it’s an action we should take sooner rather than later.
That current and imperfect process is commonly referred to as “Digital Estate Management” or “Digital Legacy Management.” This process is part of settling the digital affairs of the deceased and involves several steps:
- Identification of Digital Assets: Identifying all the digital assets of the deceased, including social media accounts, blogs, online banking accounts, email accounts, and digital files.
- Access and Authorization: Obtaining the necessary legal authorization or access rights to manage or close these accounts. This often requires proof of death, such as a death certificate, and proof of legal authority to act on behalf of the deceased, like a letter of administration or an executorship.
- Review of Platform Policies: Each platform (YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, also your blog and owned domain) has its own policies for handling the accounts of deceased users. For instance, Facebook allows for accounts to be either memorialized or deleted, while Google has an Inactive Account Manager feature that allows users to plan for their account’s future.
- Contacting Service Providers: The executor or authorized person must contact each service provider to inform them of the death and request account closure or management according to the deceased’s wishes or platform policies. To appoint an executor or authorized person, we recommend preparing a will or trust. (See also: How Can We Preserve and Protect Our Legacy?)
- Preservation of Content (if needed): Before closure, if the family or estate wishes to preserve any content (like photos or videos), they need to take steps to save these via backup and archive services such as DropBox, Google Photos, and Google Drive.
- Closure or Memorialization: Based on the platform’s policy and the wishes of the deceased or their family, the account can either be closed permanently or transformed into a memorial account.
- Notification to Contacts: In some cases, it may be appropriate to notify the contacts or followers of the deceased about the account closure or memorialization.
- Continuous Monitoring: In some cases, digital assets might be overlooked initially, so it’s important to monitor and manage any digital footprints that become apparent later.
This process is part of broader estate planning and is increasingly being recognized as an important aspect of handling a person’s affairs after death. It’s recommended to plan ahead for one’s digital legacy to ease the process for family members or executors.
Blogs and Websites (and Other “Owned Content”)
Phew! The not-so-basic digital estimate management steps may have your head spinning. Many of us don’t realize how much decisions and work are involved to prepare for our digital legacy. For content creators, many of us publish regular content (short and long form) beyond social media. Common places are our owned blogs and websites. What do you do in this case?
- For self-hosted websites, the fate of the content depends on the hosting service’s policy and whether the hosting fees continue to be paid.
- If hosted on platforms like WordPress or Blogger, their specific policies apply, which may include account access by legal representatives.
Managing blogs and websites after the owner’s passing involves a combination of legal, financial, and technical considerations. Unlike some social media platforms, most hosting services for blogs and websites do not have built-in legacy plans, so proactive planning is essential. Here are the steps to ensure a smooth transition of your digital assets, such as blogs and websites, to someone after your passing:
1. Choose a Trusted Individual (or a Digital Executor)
- Select a trusted person who will manage your website or blog after you. This could be a family member, friend, or even a professional service. While this person doesn’t necessarily need to be assigned as a digital executor on your will, it’s better if they are, or else you will notice the following steps that require this person to submit many legal documentations to prove that he or she has the authority to manage access on your behalf. (Please note: you can prepare a living will or living trust at any time using services such as Trust and Will. In other words, you don’t need to wait until a certain age, or near end of life to make these decisions).
2. Legal Documentation
- Include your digital assets in your will or estate plan. Specify who will inherit or manage your websites and blogs.
- Provide legal authority for them to manage or access your hosting accounts and domain registrations.
3. Access Information
- Ensure your designated person knows how to access your hosting account and domain registrar. This includes usernames, passwords, and any other necessary login information.
- Consider using a secure password manager where you can store all your digital information, and provide the master key to your designated person or include instructions in your will. When you have a password manager, you only need to provide on username/password combination as opposed to hundreds. (See also: Lastpass Alternative: Best Password Managers for Business (2023))
4. Financial Arrangements
- Ensure there is a plan for ongoing payment of hosting fees. Options include:
- Setting up a financial trust specifically for maintaining your digital assets.
- Ensuring the designated person has access to an account or funds to continue payments.
- Prepaying hosting fees for an extended period if the hosting service allows.
5. Instructions for Management
- Provide clear instructions on how you want the website or blog to be managed. This could include:
- Keeping the site live as a memorial or archive.
- Continuing to update the site, if relevant.
- Shutting down the site and preserving important content. (This can be measured with ongoing traffic, and website income as well to determine if content is still relevant and needed by future generations)
Note: Providing these instructions is critical, which makes choosing the right person (or team) to manage digital assets a priority. Content creators need support beyond just logging into social media, as there may be technical considerations and instructions involved beyond what you can provide and predict.
If it becomes too difficult for the person to follow through, chances are that they won’t get done.
6. Backup Your Content
- Speaking of digital after life planning, the planning itself should start while we are all alive and well. If you are reading this article, then you have plenty of time to take action. The sooner the better.
- Regularly backup your website or blog content. Provide your designated person with access to these backups in case the website needs to be restored or moved to a different hosting service.
7. Ongoing Monitoring
- Advise your designated person to regularly monitor the website or blog for any required updates or renewals.
8. Revenue from Your Content
- If your blog, podcast or your YouTube channel is generating a small or large amount of revenue, it’s important to build a plan for how the revenue will be collected and distributed. A portion of it can be used to pay for ongoing services, but the rest also needs clear instructions for how it’ll be managed.
As you can see, preparing for the future management of your digital assets requires both planning and clear communication with the person you choose to manage your online legacy. Regularly updating your plans and ensuring your legal documents reflect your current digital assets is also crucial for a smooth transition.
The list above isn’t exhaustive of what may be relevant to your content and business. But it can serve as a good starting point for this conversation and planning for your digital after life.
Professional Services Available to Manage Your Digital After Life
While there are professional services available today that specialize in managing digital assets, including websites and blogs, after an individual passes away, we aren’t ready to talk about or recommend them just yet until we fully understand their capabilities, services and limitations in this matter. However, if you have come across companies that do this well, please let us know in the comments below. Thank you!
What AI Can Do To Preserve Your Digital Legacy
When I first researched the digital after life, many top articles on Google immediately jumped to “digital avatars, and chatbots that allow you to speak to the dead”. These topics aren’t immediately relevant to the public, not even content creators.
Sure, it’s good to know that AI makes it possible to talk to people who have passed on through digital simulations of them. We have seen examples where a chatbot lets users create group chats with deceased historical figures, and its inaccuracy made the headlines. GPT-3 has been used to create chats with deceased people by uploading transcripts of their conversations to an LLM (large language model).
As stunning as it sounds, these tools and models have limitations and they aren’t created automatically for you when you pass on. In many cases, people will have to be famous for these big companies to have an interest in developing such models so the public can search and engage with your content.
Here are a few categories of AI tools in digital after life space we should keep an eye on:
- AI Writing Assistants: For bloggers, AI can suggest topics, create drafts, and even write complete blog posts based on past content and audience preferences. That’s right, imagine an AI tool that can continue to ideate and develop new content for you based on existing writing styles and current and new events.
- Long-term Digital Storage: AI tools that can help in optimizing the storage of digital content, ensuring it remains accessible and intact over long periods.
- Format Compatibility: AI tools that can assist in converting content into formats that are likely to be accessible in the future, considering the rapid evolution of technology.
- Digital Estate Management: Some AI applications can help in planning the future of your digital content, including decision-making processes on what happens to your content after your passing.
- Digital avatars and chatbot-related AI tools are increasingly being considered for digital legacy planning. These tools can simulate a person’s presence, allowing interaction with their digital persona even after their passing. Here’s a look at how these tools fit into digital legacy planning.
Conclusion: What can you do to better prepare for your digital after life as a content creator?
There is still so much we need to learn as part of this process. The journey to begin educating ourselves is a very important first step.
We also think it’s essential to inform other creators who may not be thinking about their digital after life. Together, we can welcome them into the discussion.
If you have any ideas and resources you’d like to share with us, please kindly leave them in the comments below.
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