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The Challenge of Web Hosting Once You're Dead 182

reifman writes: Hosting a website (even WordPress) after your death has a variety of unexpected complexities, from renewing your domain name, to hosting, security, monitoring, troubleshooting and more. It's a gaping hole that we as technologists should start thinking more about — especially because all of us are going to die, some of us unexpectedly sooner than we'd like or planned for. The only real solution I found was to share credentials and designate funds to descendants — you've done this, right?
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The Challenge of Web Hosting Once You're Dead

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  • by Hanzie ( 16075 ) * on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:22PM (#49659683)

    It used to be you look for dead people to steal identities from by pretending they're still alive.

    After the 'dead hosting' problem is taken care of, it will be 'pretend the owner is dead and take control'

  • I'll be dead (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'll be dead, so it won't matter to me.

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:26PM (#49659701) Homepage

    What do you do with an old website that you're not adding new content and tired of keeping up with the endless WordPress updates, spam comments and nonexistent traffic?

  • How would the domain be renewed if the estate cancels the credit cards?
    • by BlackPignouf ( 1017012 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:40PM (#49659805)

      That, and many more problems. A good friend and our main developer committed suicide 5 years ago.
      With the ceremony, the emotional shock and many organizational problems, 1 month got by, the bank account got closed, the provider didn't get paid and deleted the whole VM on which our website was running.
      During this period, 2 disks died at his place on the Raid 5 NAS backup, and nobody noticed.

      When people tell me I'm being overzealous with backups now, I tell them that worst-worst-case scenarios do happen sometimes.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        .... RAID is not a backup.

        • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @12:06AM (#49661797)

          .... RAID is not a backup.

          What a clueless thing to say. His setup was fine. You've misused the meme.

          At a minimum, a proper backup strategy provides some level of protection against hardware failure and error propagation. RAID—by itself—provides no protection against error propagation, which is why we all chant that "RAID is not a backup", but it absolutely can be used as a part of a comprehensive backup strategy. Super trivial example: if you're even doing something simple like bringing a copy of the production data home periodically and loading it into a RAID you keep there (i.e. kinda like what it sounds like was going on here), that's sufficient to provide you with a degree of protection from error propagation (albeit, a thin one). A better solution might involve regular (e.g. every hour for the last day, every day for the last week, etc.) backups to an off-site RAID, since it would provide you with better protection against error propagation, as well as all of the protection against typical hardware failure that RAID provides, not to mention protection against at least some forms of disasters.

          All of which is to say, "RAID is not a backup" is a shorthand way of telling people to not put their production data in a RAID and assume it's "backed up" when it's not. RAID may not not a backup, but it's an essential part of many organizational backup strategies, and if you're a small company, putting your production data in one place and using RAID for storing a backup at the home of your lead developer is a perfectly valid strategy.

        • During this period, 2 disks died at his place on the Raid 5 NAS backup, and nobody noticed.

          In all this "RAID is not a backup" back-and-forth, has nobody noticed that the NAS was the backup? Multiple disks failing on the backup is not a problem. since you've still got the main copy (i.e. the main respository if you're a company with things like websites). You just laugh and renew the backup.

          Now, reading between the lines, it may be that this deployed (production?) VM with the website may have been the 'main'

      • by Bite The Pillow ( 3087109 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @09:47PM (#49661257)

        I'm not being an asshole here, but "worst case" literally means "it could actually happen".

        If you explain it that way, it might help educate a few more people.

        "Worst case, I lose a few quid down the loo." Well, do you have anything else in your pocket like a phone or I.D. or more quid? Because worst case could be really devastating.

        Worst case is literally the worst thing that could happen within the realm of possibility. Meaning it is possible. Meaning you should try not to get to that point.

        • You're right. All I'm saying is that you actually need some imagination to find out what the worst-case scenario could be.
          As in, not just "getting hit by a bus", "fire at work" and "being robbed at home", but all three at the same time.

    • by slazzy ( 864185 )
      You can renew for 10 years, and some registers will allow you to leave a credit in the account and set auto-renew. That should last until the register business goes tits-up at least.
      • You can renew for 10 years, and some registers will allow you to leave a credit in the account and set auto-renew. That should last until the register business goes tits-up at least.

        10 years? Bah... Network solutions offers 100 years: http://www.networksolutions.co... [networksolutions.com]

        Now whether they'll be around that long is a completely different question.

    • Would have to set up an LLC or a Trust or something?

    • by allo ( 1728082 )

      And if the admin-c is dead, the domain holder is no valid person, so everybody can take it down.

    • How would the domain be renewed if the estate cancels the credit cards?

      Why renew? Just prepay for 100 years: http://www.networksolutions.co... [networksolutions.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:30PM (#49659741)

    A fate worse than death.

  • if I am dead (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:30PM (#49659743) Homepage
    Why would I care what happens??
    • Re:if I am dead (Score:4, Interesting)

      by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:43PM (#49659819)
      Two types of websites would be good after you die:

      The first is obvious-Your website makes a profit, and you want your family members to continue to profit in your absence. This is kinda like how life insurance works.

      The second type is for spiritual types like me- I believe in an after life, and I want people to have faith in Jesus. I might not meet you personally in this life, but if I helped your faith, it'd be cool to know you later. I'm not one who gets in arguments about what is the minimum for salvation, or what the minimum you need to do to get to Heaven. But I know it stokes God when we follow him, do good, be loving, and help people in their faith. So helping people to find Jesus even when I'm not around will be beneficial.

      In either regard, if it matters to you for your website to be up after you die, you should probably be sharing the credentials with at least one other trustable person now.
      • Re:if I am dead (Score:4, Insightful)

        by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @05:20PM (#49660009)
        Third type of website is a public service. Maybe you're not making money off it, but people like it. An example of this would be: Capgeek. Its owner got sick and passed away. No one runs it anymore because he put a lot of work into it, and no one could maintain it.

        If the Internet is full of public service websites, maybe we should try and see them go forward even if we die. This like a mutual favor that people could do.
        • Re:if I am dead (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @06:07PM (#49660219) Homepage

          Third type of website is a public service. Maybe you're not making money off it, but people like it. An example of this would be: Capgeek. Its owner got sick and passed away. No one runs it anymore because he put a lot of work into it, and no one could maintain it.

          But this is exactly why a zombie site doesn't do any good. You need somebody to be your heir, which goes beyond simply the funds to keep the lights on. If you don't have any line of succession set up, make arrangements in your will to add a message to the site saying I've passed, here's a zip of the entire site, if you want to carry the torch feel free for your own name under your own domain. You can't just offer free money and a domain name, somebody will just take the money and use the domain for squatting for ad revenue. Or you could go the formal route and establish a trust, but I imagine that's overkill and the trust manager will take a fair chunk of cash for that.

      • Two types of websites would be good after you die: The first is obvious-Your website makes a profit, and you want your family members to continue to profit in your absence. This is kinda like how life insurance works.

        Put ownership in your will and credentials in a safe deposit box! If you make a substantial profit, you should probably register as a business and put a succession plan in place.

        The second type is for spiritual types like me- I believe in an after life, and I want people to have faith in Jesus. I might not meet you personally in this life, but if I helped your faith, it'd be cool to know you later. I'm not one who gets in arguments about what is the minimum for salvation, or what the minimum you need to do to get to Heaven. But I know it stokes God when we follow him, do good, be loving, and help people in their faith. So helping people to find Jesus even when I'm not around will be beneficial.

        I, too, believe in the afterlife, but I'm not sure I'd want an eternal website trying to convert people to my chosen faith. Most sects and denominations already have websites; maybe you could share your testimony on one of them (providing them permission to host your comments even after you die).

        I run a website which I think should

      • The first is obvious-Your website makes a profit, and you want your family members to continue to profit in your absence. This is kinda like how life insurance works.

        This is not obvious, it's stupid. If your website is making money then leave it and it's password in your will to your next of kin.
        Why would you go thru the trouble of prepaying for a website, figuring out a way to mail a check to the next of kin's current address,
        and a whole host of other things when you can just as easily just give the whole thing to them.

        This is like trying to figure out how to keep putting gas in your wife's car after your dead. Just give her the keys to the
        car and the money and let h

    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
      Perhaps from an unselfish perspective, assuming you had something to offer humanity...
      • im in dead, i have nothing left to offer.... im dead....
        • Well, at that point your organs, etc.

          Oh hey, if things went all biometric whoever gets your (kidney|eyeballs|lungs|heart) could use your DNA to authenticate...

          Yeah buddy, got a good liver for you, but it comes at a cost...

        • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
          No I meant the stuff you had produced while you were alive. Keeping it online after you were gone may be beneficial.
    • That's a very selfish approach.

      What about giving of yourself freely to the world? Contributing - and making sure your contributions stay around, available to these, who need them?

      Maybe they aren't significant enough for someone to establish some estate that would perpetuate publishing them; that doesn't mean they are useless - and sure once I'm dead I won't care what happens to them and the rest of the world, but currently I am alive and I do care.

      • is it? the internet archive will cache the page and it will still be visible to people going forward.
        • Good, so you have not hosted someone's website, designed nor developed, nor in a any fashion done anything for anyone on the internet?

          Then you are irrelevant to this conversation.

          If you are the sole proprietor of a password, or an account, or the only developer of some uniquely functional site, then your knowledge dies when you do.

          It sounds like you are completely useless to humanity, and you might as well jump off something really high while you have the option, lest you burden the rest of us with your car

          • telling me to kill myself because I cant see the value in caring about things *after* I am dead..... yeah... real classy there.
  • by tweir ( 27510 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:43PM (#49659827)

    The legal entity side where you the person who paid for the service is now deceased is a small part of the problem. Once the credit card company knows you're dead, so are your cards. Then you need to figure out how to get the service provider to change payment method without them realizing that the person who's name is on the account is deceased. If you care so much about this scenario, your best bet is to form some form of LLC that itself owns the domain, service contracts, etc. Make your executor/spouse/meaningful person a signing officer. This has the added benefit of skipping over probate issues as well.

    The bigger issue is the content/tech side. All sites need maintenance. All service providers eventually go out of business or get acquired. Bit rot is a thing. Your best bet for future-proofing is to either publish static HTML, or have a backup that can be published as static html after the fact. Either way, you really need to have a designated geek to help finish your affairs.

    And, after all that, you still need to figure out how to pay for the hosting perpetually. Maybe directing an annuity to be established is the right thing? No idea.

    With all that said, sometimes its nice to leave a legacy. E.g. http://www.penmachine.com/ [penmachine.com]

    • by gsslay ( 807818 )

      So what you're really saying is that if you are running a website that is more than a personal website (i.e. others rely on it), then don't run it as a personal website.

  • A challenge (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2015 @04:44PM (#49659835)

    The first thing to consider is the web itself is less than 100 years old, and unlikely to still be there in 100 years. If you are willing to postulate the web, there are a number of strategies to be considered, and a good approach would be to use as many of them as possible.

    1. Host on a free service, like blogger. You don't have DNS, you are costing them almost nothing, your blog will remain as long as their company/business model survives. Find as many of these services as you can, and replicate content. This is probably the best case scenario.

    2. Host a website on Amazon's S3, and prepay. Cost of s3 is very low, one hundred dollars would keep a low traffic site running for a long time. And you should use their default URL. Again, no DNS issues.

    3. Write malware that distributes your content to existing websites. You'd need some automated method of acquiring exploits though. That would be difficult.

    4. Make sure you have a payment system that will keep running. This has been shown to work before: http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/07/us/michigan-mummified-body-found/ Use this as a backup to keep any paid websites, DNS, etc. Still running.

    5. Create a trust. Hire a law firm to administer the trust. Put enough money in it, and it can hire people that will keep the site running.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    . . . and the world will keep your content available. The works of Shakespeare are still around, and lots of lesser writers as well.

    Not all are so interesting. So there is a market for companies that keep content available forever, for a suitable one-time fee. Similar to those frozen brains . . .

  • "especially because all of us are going to die"

    Bit of a large assumption there...

    There are likely some people already born who will never die. Their form might change.

    • by kesuki ( 321456 )

      eventually the thermal death of the universe will come.

      there is no way to tell when (i bet next Wednesday at 3.05pm, small wager of one point only)

      that was a joke, not funny but i giggled.

      • by pubwvj ( 1045960 )

        You definitely worry too much. :)

        Be the Chaos.

      • Thermal death of the universe will happen long after we develop cross-multiverse travel.

        • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

          Well, it certainly won't happen in the reverse order.

          • There's always an option of energy hoarding. I saw that sci-fi once; the whole universe is long dead but the civilization thrives on a single isle of enormous hoard of energy picked before that. Yes, that means the universe isn't -entirely- dead, but its final thermal death is prolonged far past its natural date through artificial means buying the civilization extra time to either migrate to a different universe or trigger a new big bang.

            Plus it's not entirely sure if space expansion can't be harnessed as a

  • Simple approach (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Get a domain name for the family. Every member can have a subdomain under that domain name. Hand off care and feeding of the domain and the hosting to your successor well before you die, with instructions they do the same when the time comes.

    It does mean you have to say good-bye to myfancyvanitydomainname.com, instead you get to use you.family.org. At the same time, this is exactly how DNS was designed to work.

  • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @05:03PM (#49659921)

    Do you really need to bequeath your blog to your next of kin? If you're talking to your family about funds and credentials, you're telling them 'here, I expect you to keep spending money forever on pointless sentimentality'. Keep a backup of the content, that's all.

    But don't get me wrong; we should all be ready for our inevitable demise. I can't overestimate how important it is to prepare a will, insurance, a small untraceable account and a few years of queued posts offering a food tour of the afterlife.

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      Because not all websites are personal blogs. The modern web is a dynamic and interactive thing.
      Imagine how badly even something as trivial as a webbased game could be backed up as a static backup.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @05:06PM (#49659933)

    Why the hell should I care?

  • Seems like the sort of thing a trust/lawyer company would be good at. They can keep the bills paid, and hiring an IT person to fix anything that breaks. Probably cost a fortune though.
    • by jopsen ( 885607 )

      Seems like the sort of thing a trust/lawyer company would be good at. They can keep the bills paid, and hiring an IT person to fix anything that breaks. Probably cost a fortune though.

      I see a business opportunity here... You leave your domain with the hosting company, the company does a scan (convert site to static site) and hosts it on say S3 once you're dead... You pay them upfront for say 1000 years of hosting and domain management. Why not, 1k years keeping the lights on a static site is only going to get cheaper, so how expensive do we really think that is...

      We could call the business "dead simple hosting" :)

      For all the people who ask why, I ask why not keep my personal blog aro

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @05:12PM (#49659967) Journal

    I've been dead since 2009 and I'm still posting Slashdot comments.

    It's all about good planning.

  • This problem was solved a long time ago in Chicago. Just leave the password for the domain and your bank account with someone. Doesn't matter who you leave it with, you're dead.
  • You're dead? Host it on a zombie server.
  • one possibility (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Sunday May 10, 2015 @05:53PM (#49660149)

    Use a webhost that lets you pre-pay for service, and prepay for a bunch of it. Register the domains through that host too, and set them to autorenewal. This won't get you indefinite service, but it can get you quite some years, if the host remains in business. Also you might want a static HTML website rather than something that might need upgrades.

    Nearlyfreespeech.net [nearlyfreespeech.net] is an example of a host you can do that with. If you deposit, say, $500, they will keep hosting your website until you use up $500 worth of service, which for a modest static-HTML site with one domain should be many years.

    • Re:one possibility (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2015 @08:56PM (#49661059)

      A client of ours had a website that gave comfort and advice to people who were considering suicide, or had lost a loved one to suicide. When he died of old age, his family wanted to ensure his site continued on for a pretedetermined time. They paid us up front for several years of hosting, and since we had a static HTML version of the site, and controlled the server and domain name registration, we were able to honour his legacy and follow their wishes. I have no idea if he helped comfort or save anyone after his death, but I like to think he did.

  • There are a lot of other things that are challenging once you're dead too, like brushing your teeth, combing your hair (and it's a real pain when it starts to fall out), and even scratching an itch. Being dead sucks, actually, and you'll have a lot more on your mind than keeping your WordPress site up to date!
  • ... try editing your page after you're dead.

    I assume that decomposition has a negative effect on your typing skills.
  • If I'm self-hosting, then the server is in my house and belongs to me. As long as whoever is supposed to manage it after I'm gone is capable of using the operating system on said system, they should be able to reset my passwords after I'm gone and manage it by starting there.

    Although really, if I'm dead, why would I care if anyone saw my web page? I've never had anything on my web server that was that important.
  • In his book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology [amazon.com] Ray Kurzweil talks about the difficulties moving information from media to media as technology changes. He comes to the conclusion that information is only readily available when someone cares about it.

    If you have enough money, [like other posters mentioned] you could setup a trust and have the executors required/compensated for taking an actions (such as keeping your online presence going after you die.)

  • As a believer in presentism, I believe that your problem is unsolvable -- after you're dead, no matter how many preparations are made, there's no guarantee that your descendents will respect your wishes.

    But, that said, best of luck trying. The pursuit of the unachievable, often leads to useful side effects.
  • Stop using that [arstechnica.com] security [arstechnica.com] nightmare. [arstechnica.com]

    PLEASE! [arstechnica.com]

    IE 6 and XP with pre service pack 2 had less security exploits for crying out loud. No IT professional should trust it as arstechnica and others have a 0 day posted every other month.

  • ... this Internet thing is really going to catch on anyway.

  • My wife did this as her thesis.

    http://explorer.cyberstreet.co... [cyberstreet.com]

  • by rainer_d ( 115765 ) on Sunday May 10, 2015 @09:53PM (#49661283) Homepage
    If you're famous enough, you'll have a wikipedia entry.
    If not, well, that's it.
    If you have relatives, they will remember you. If you have kids early enough and they also have kids early enough, your grandkids will remember you, too.
    If not, maybe you should stop worrying about a f*cking website, for god's sake!
  • It's rather unlikely that I'll care what happens to my domain after I'm dead.

  • So, yeah, I have this plan to not die.
    So far it's working!

    Now really folks, aren't we taking ourselves too seriously here? Is there something you have to say that is so important you want it available for future generations? Think about the 101 billion who have already died- did lots of them have important things to say that we should be reading about now? Should they have left us a legacy web site?

    If you have important wisdom to share, or even some really important facts and figures to impart; put them in

  • I don't want to see dead people, all the time, not in real life nor in the digital one.

  • Can someone tell me how to keep my twitter account active after I die?
  • ... who the hell ceahs?!!

  • You know how we have found records from ancient Egypt and China and South America that are thousands of years old, enabling us to learn about those cultures? That won't happen with us. We store our records on fragile magnetic disks that require electricity and an extremely complex machine to read. No one wants to think that our civilization could end, but odds are it will at some point. I often wonder what future archaeologists will think about our civilization. What trace will we leave behind now that
  • If you're dead, you just do not care anymore.

  • While you're considering post-mortem hosting, you should also get your shit together [getyourshittogether.org].

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