R.I.P. Dion Gillard (1967-2008)

Although I never met Dion in person, I knew him through various ASF mailing lists. May he rest in peace and may his family find some solace; there were many souls who appreciated his kindness and technical help in the open source world.

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I was reminded of Dion this weekend when my IM client started popping up “Add to contact list?” notifications from Dion’s hotmail account. It was already late at night, and I had been slogging through a very difficult set of email threads, so it was a very spooky experience to suddenly see him reaching out for me. The most likely explanation is the technical one: I had just upgraded to Trillian Astra, so in setting up my new contact list and notification preferences, it presumably found some long lost invitations Dion had sent me.

This brings up an interesting point, however. While there has been plenty of punditry about the longevity of online identities – sometimes surpassing human lives – how much concrete policy has been made about the issue?

Seriously – how many of those endless Terms Of Service agreements you click through when joining a new website, or making an order online address the subject of what happens to your online data when you die? How would a family member realistically go about presenting a certified death certificate to TheLatestSocialNetwork.Com to get the deceased’s page updated? What does it mean to the social networking connection hierarchy of “friend; family; best friend; no, really best friend who can share secret messages; co-worker; other” of link status when someone you know has passed away?

Heck, what should (in the geeky technical sense, not the legal or moral sense) happen to someone’s online data, presuming that they didn’t specify what they wanted to happen. There’s historical and social value in leaving URLs around, since someone somewhere will be looking for that data someday later on. Maybe some of Dion’s friends want to keep his name in their FaceBook friends list, as a way of remembering him?

What do you think?