How can we keep domains working long after our death?

Dealing with your digital legacy after your death is a big issue, and one that requires a lot of thought and a lot of problems to be solved, so let’s break it down into smaller pieces and think about them individually. This post is primarily a collection of thoughts about dealing with the problem from the domains side, not hosting. Hosting is a problem for more posts.

The internet isn’t that old and most of the pioneers are still around. But we can see the wave coming, so let’s try to solve this problem before it breaks.

Registry limits

Registrars should offer the ability to register domain names for a very long period of time. Currently the max is 10 years. That max should be removed.


What about a community/reader-driven approach? What if there were a widget on the website showing the current expiration date for the domain and the ability to donate money to the renewal. Everything can happen automatically and any amount can be donated. Once enough money is raised to renew for another year, the renewal is processed automatically. With the max cap raised, popular sites can be renewed for decades in a short amount of time. This seems like something registrars should be able to support.

Charity registry

What if we start a 501c3 registry that people give their domains to and the foundation takes responsibility for keeping them renewed? Call it the Longevity Registry. This feels like something the Long Now Foundation would be open to, perhaps in concert with Wikimedia Foundation or the Internet Archive. It would need a fundraising arm and a rock solid set of tools.

They would also be responsible for deciding where the DNS gets pointed, which is another problem. They could have a set of processes for determining that. They could also put together a bunch of boilerplate legal docs that people can include in their wills to transfer domains to the Longevity Registry after their death.

Host files

Alex Kirk had a great idea: Remember the early days of the internet where people passed around host files? How about doing the same for domain names after someone dies? Call it Open Registry and make a Chrome extension for it. For most people, making their site static and sticking it on GitHub Pages and adding an entry in Open Registry might be enough. We wouldn’t need access to their servers as long as we can make a good enough scraping bots to pull down everything.

Related to this, what if we could point the domain at its archived version at the Internet Archive? We’ll have to pitch this to Mark Graham. This feels like a “keep the links blue”-type project. More on that in future hosting posts.

I’m sure there is more I haven’t considered yet. This is meant to be an open dialogue. Please post your comments, or write a response with ideas on your own site.

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  • Ryan Barrett

7 responses to “How can we keep domains working long after our death?”

  1. Ton Zijlstra Avatar

    A few months ago I, in response to WordPress 100 year hosting plan, I suggested the National Library as solution. Register an ISBN or ISSN for your site’s content and submit it. It will not keep a domain alive or keep it from being re-used for something else, but it will ensure the content is with an institution that has both a track record and higher likelihood w.r.t. longevity.

  2. Jeremy Felt Avatar

    Chuck asks, “how can we keep domains working long after our death?”

    I have a related thought quite often and get annoyed at how deep we are into it:

    It’s disappointing that we took the idea of property from the physical world and transferred it directly to the digital world. For things like address management, it’d sure be nice if there was a viable commons.

    I like the idea of an Open Registry—not just for longevity, but for how we use the internet now.

    We’ve given the namespaces we publish under an arbitrary expiration date when the possibilities should actually be endless. It’s hard enough to keep things going with software and hardware, why restrict ourselves to paying large corporations rent for words that point to something completely virtual?

    If Google can pay relatively zero dollars (for them) to stake out the .ing namespace, why can’t I pay relatively zero dollars to stake out .jeremyfelt1979?

    The DNS system is already established and it seems like a fairly well funded trust could handle the address space management. Maybe the biggest hurdle is establishing authority and trust.

    I guess a way to do this without ICANN is to setup DNS servers that include data from a commons-first registry as well as data from the current DNS root. Maybe submit some .openregistry flavored namespaces as a start to the Public Suffix List. And then convince people to use those DNS servers?

    What’s a bummer is that a technical solution for all of that is probably the “easy” part. How to store an archive forever on the other hand, ugh, but HTML has been good for a while, so it could work.

    Anyhow… old man shakes fist at virtual arbitrary clouds. 😂

    Thanks for the prompt!

  3. Ryan Barrett Avatar

    Yes!’s 100-Year Plan is one great example of a commercial attempt at this. Posthaven is another.

  4. Esteban Avatar

    I like this project, Handshake: – It seems to work fine, but it does require an update in the client (ie: browsers) in order to work without installing any extensions and doing complicated configurations.

  5. Manton Reece Avatar

    Some really good thoughts here from Chuck Grimmett about preserving web sites after our death. I’ve also been thinking about this. There’s a little in my book about it. Hope to have more concrete plans by the end of the year.

  6. anonymous Avatar

    In the absence of a generally accepted way to archive sites on the web long-term, I wholeheartedly approve of friends stepping up to keep their deceased friends’ sites running.

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