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Dead Man’s Switch

When the gang here at Capstrat set out to brainstorm some ideas for SXSW 2009, we talked about what “digital will” service might look like. We decided that the basic model would allow a user to write e-mail messages and they would be sent on their behalf posthumously. The user would be prompted to check in from time to time to keep the messages from being sent. It’s like having a jet ski engine stop when you fall off or stopping a train if the operator isn’t touching the controls. It’s called a dead man’s switch.

www.deadmansswitch.net went into beta in late July with a service that does just this. From their site:

This is how this works. You write a few e-mails, and choose the recipients. These emails are encrypted with military-grade algorithms, so you can be sure that no-one except the intended recipient will ever read them. Your switch will email you every so often, asking you to show that you are fine by clicking a link. If something were to… happen… to you, your switch would then send the emails you wrote to the recipients you specified. Sort of an “electronic will,” one could say.

The concept here isn’t new. People have been writing wills and leaving behind letters for centuries, but now we have an online equivalent. I’m not sure how I feel about having a web server send an e-mail asking if I am alive, but the service is designed to give you several chances to verify your continued existence. I also think these guys deserve the award for the most morbid user welcome message on the Internet:

The last time you showed signs of life before today was on Friday, September 19, 2008. Now you can write a new email, or see the ones you have already written:

Of course, the terms of service state that “it comes without any warranty, neither express nor implied (even the actual sending of the messages is not guaranteed, but we’ll do our best).”

What do you think about this? Is it something worth using or too morbid to think about?

Re-posted from Field Notes

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