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The Future of the Obituary

April 26, 2011 2 comments

Have you ever wondered what will happen to obituaries as print newspapers becoming increasingly irrelevant? Nope, honestly, I hadn’t wondered about it either. Until I met Mike Dowdle. Mike has started a site called Generation Station, where you can create a profile for your loved one. Friends and family can help write their biography, and share stories and photos. It’s a combination of a an obituary site and one for family history/genealogy

Generation Station is a wiki-style site. Anyone can change someone’s biography, and if you don’t like it you can change it back. It’s kind of like Wikipedia for everyone–you don’t have to be famous to have a page. (You just have to be dead–the site doesn’t allow profiles of living persons.)

You can see how a genre of communication like classifieds is better in digital form. It’s getting hard to even remember that we used write and read classifieds on paper. Obituaries as a form has been slower to evolve, but the changes ultimately I think will be more transformative. Obituaries traditionally have always been single-author, but making them collaboratively authored will create a much richer record and experience for everyone affected.

The advantages of online, collaborative obits over the traditional paper form are easy to see. The harder question is how the business model adapts. When I look back on the online sites I’ve assigned students explore in online communities class over the years, I get a glimpse of what was obvious ten year ago and what wasn’t. Looking back, the business questions strike me as  harder than the interaction questions.  It’s not too hard to figure out what people want do, but what and when they’re willing to pay is a puzzle. Generation Station is currently a free service, but you can pay for premium features.  It’ll be interesting to see how viable that is. The other business question is what this means for paper newspapers. This is yet another source of revenue that may be redirected away from them–unless they do a better job of innovating in this space.

Friends who knew my sister-in-law, Gretchen Weimann Cline, can contribute to her page here.

Categories: news, social computing
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