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.
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.
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.
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.