Deserts of eternity

Charles Cowling

It’s all up with EternalSpace. Even as we slept it went gentle into that good night, taking with it millions of $ of venture capital. After life’s fitful fever it sleeps well.

Investors, it seems, screamed STOP when, just 30 days after its launch, they already saw it going nowhere. They blame feet-dragging undertakers and the glacial pace of change in the death trade.

I am sad about this in a by no means worthy way. I got off on its towering awfulness. Million-dollar awfulness is the best it gets. If you missed it, I’m sorry. I did try to tell you.

And yet online memorial sites have a future. They are places to go and talk and share. The sad news for grieving people is that it is difficult at this stage in their evolution to determine which sites will thrive and which will founder with the loss of all memories on board — as so many already have.

Where’s your quality assurance?

Three factors will ensure the survival of the fittest: ethics, functionality and a stable financial foundation.

Over at MuchLoved, Jonathan Davies is doing his best. He has developed an ethical code of conduct which has respect for privacy at its heart. But one of its signatories, The Last Respect, seems already to have bellied. He has set up a not-for-profit, the Data Trust, to ensure the maintenance of digitally stored information. Not many takers so far, and GaGaGa.com, a site for baby snaps, has failed to launch.

Assessing functionality is partly a subjective thing—do you like the look of the site? But there are objective criteria. How does it drive? How fast does it go? Is it well-equipped? On all these counts, MuchLoved objectively excels.

Financial foundations clearly matter most. And the message to anyone out there hoping to make money from an online memorial site is: forget it—unless you’ve a different and a better vision from that of market leader MuchLoved, which is free. How does MuchLoved do that? Here I declare an interest: partly from people like me who admire it and donate. Partly, too, I guess, from charities which stand to benefit from donations made in memory. And partly ( a big partly) from Jonathan himself, who has poured heaps of his own time and money into the site in memory of his brother Philip. It’s a labour, you see, of love.

What, then, do we make of GoneTooSoon, MuchLoved’s biggest competitor? It lacks the functionality of MuchLoved. It’s free, but only because it has already been scandal-hit. It now makes money from Interflora and virtual gifts (ugh!).

Ethically, it has question marks buzzing round it like bluebottles. It says it’s a not-for-profit but it’s not a registered charity so far as I can see. When it comes to respecting the privacy of the family of the dead person what do you make of this:

Don’t think it’s not your place to set up a site. You would not be encroaching on other family members territory.

Or this?

Maybe you lost your loved one in a sudden or violent way? … Or perhaps your story is one of true love against the odds? Whatever your story, we’d love to hear from you. Womens magazines are looking for stories of your love and, sadly, loss. If your story is printed, you could receive a payment of around £500 from the magazine.

A glance at the tributes at GoneTooSoon reveals a voyeuristic audience. The same sad people visit every tribute and mark the territory with a mawkish poem or message.

I’d like to contact GoneTooSoon and tell them I’ve posted this blog. I can’t do that by email, only by ringing an 0845 number. No probs with MuchLoved.

And, as ever, I hope someone out there will subvert my analysis.

In the meantime, anyone fancy setting up a memorial site for memorial sites which have gone too soon?

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