Reinventing the obituary

Posted by Russ on Nov 16,2012

Evertalk - reinventing the obituaryIt may sound strange to read this, but obituaries are very popular.  There are millions of people who absolutely love reading obituaries.  The website for the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate, saw over one million page views in October for their obituary section. (source: ComScore)  That’s a ton of traffic from people interested in reading about the lives of folks who have passed away!

Unfortunately, despite the popularity of obituaries, little has changed with the medium for decades. In the mid 1990s, a few internet companies came along and digitized the cow path by creating an online complement to obituaries.  They were essentially just an online compliment to the print obit with a virtual guest book that let people share memories and condolences.  These online services haven’t changed much either since the late 1990s.   These basic online services have not adapted to the reality that we live-out a large portion of our lives online and share digital content on a multitude of sites.

It’s the data and content that you add to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Flickr that comprises a patchwork of anecdotes about your life.  Since this data is spread across multiple sites, there needs to be a better way for life stories to be told in a coherent manner.  I mean, do you really want your life story to be condensed down to a 9 line print obituary that has a carbon copy online?  Or, do you want a real biography that consists of your best moments, that is interactive, includes an array of your best photographs, and provides a way for your friends and family to keep your memory alive after you’re gone?

One of the only channels of print revenues that has not died a horrific death is, ironically, the obituary. Although it’s a small overall percentage of newspaper revenues, obituary revenues have stayed relatively steady over the last several years.  However, now that anyone can create a free page on Facebook to memorialize someone, this is about to change.  Yet, there is an opportunity for newspapers to modernize their obituaries by making a real investment in change and getting on the social bandwagon.  After all, deaths are the fifth most commented upon subjects on Facebook.  Still, there’s no verification of deaths on Facebook.  Just take a look at all the fake pages on Facebook proclaiming the deaths of famous celebrities like Morgan Freeman (he’s alive) and Richard Simmons (he’s alive, too). Newspapers verify the deaths so as to avoid publishing a fake death notice.  This is a valuable public service. Let’s just hope they can figure out how to apply this practice to the new age of social memorials.

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