@neilperkin I find the notion of Facebook becoming a virtual graveyard quite interesting.
— Collyn Ahart (@collynahart) October 31, 2013
Randall Munroe's latest What If? column attempts to answer the question: 'When, if ever, will Facebook contain more profiles of dead people than of living ones?'. It's a rather macabre, but not insignificant question – the thought being that at some point in the (perhaps not hugely distant) future, Facebook may well become more of a virtual graveyard than it is a network of living souls.
Randall estimates based on the site's growth rate and user age breakdown over time that there could already be 10 to 20 million people who created Facebook profiles who are no longer alive. As Jason Kottke points out, that's a pretty incredible number. And one that begs all kinds of questions. Next of kin can convert Facebook profiles into memorial pages, but there are still questions (that Randall goes on to discuss) around what should happen to these profiles, whether they should be open to comments or interaction, how we moderate them, access to private data, and many more that we haven't yet developed social norms for. No doubt due to its ubiquity the question focuses more on Facebook, but is just as valid for any kind of social profile. The reality is that the digital vapour trails that we are busy creating will be around long after we've shuffled off this mortal coil, and that's something that we really haven't had to deal with before.