Politics and Death

This was co-written with Fin

When Mihi died, we had some problems beyond just the holes in our chests and the salt in our eyes. 0) He was part of many communities – the medical community, the hacker community, the data journalism community, and many more. We wanted to create a site where these communities could come together, which was complicated as we are 1) activists of one flavor or another, and so most of us aren’t on facebook, 2) facebook memorial pages squick us the fuck out anyway1 2, and 3) there aren’t other accessible options out there for collaborative memorial pages3.

So, to fit the needs of the group and to act in alignment with how Mihi (probably) would have acted/wished, fin and friends made an open source condolences page, which is here on github. Then they documented the fuck out of it so at least techies could use it. And it works. It’s pretty and we used it to share our stories and photos. And when the inevitable deaths of those close to us (being meat popsicles and all) happen, we’d like it to be available to you to also use.
visually simple page has our departed friend Mihi front and center, between two short blocks of text describing that the page is a memorial in both English and German, and the beginning of one of the images posted to commemorate him

Here’s fin, who actually understands how it works, and did the work associated with set up and documentation:

In this case, we wanted to create a space for all communities that knew him, but many of these communities are not represented on Facebook. We wanted to have a low barrier to entry, so that less tech-literate people could interact with the site. And we wanted something that could exist indefinitely, independent of companies and business models. I think we managed to create a solution that reflected what Mihi would have wanted.

The site allows everyone to submit photos, links and text, as well as messages to the family. The barrier of entry is low: no usernames and no verification emails are needed. Image upload is easy and Drag&Drop-enabled.
The technical decisions we made generally shifted the burden of interaction towards the maintainer instead of the user/submitter.
Of course we feared spambots and malicious users, so we created a moderation loop using a simple admin interface. Only one person ever used it (hi!) and it worked quite well.

To enable the site to stay online long-term, we also created a site generator that generates static content from the database. This means after some amount of time, submissions can be closed and the site can be hosted on any server, as long as any person feels responsible for it.

We’re as happy with this as we can be, given the circumstances. Many people were able to share stories and read about aspects of his life they never knew.
If you ever find yourself in need of such a site, (1) I’m sorry. (2) I hope this helps and (3) let me know if you need anything.

footnotes

  1. Facebook does this thing when its users die, which is to create a memorial page. I’m still not sure how they do this. Some people have indicated that htey have to send in a death certificate, others that a switch was made before any of a very limited set of close ties indicated anything on teh platform. It grosses me out, and it tends to gross out my friends. Facebook will make memorial thigns for you, remind you about a person you might not be ready to be reminded about.
  2. And let’s face it — facebook isn’t going to be around forever. They make it nigh impossible to export data from their platfom, which means when they invevitably fold (or just change their data policies), all those memories you might have stored with them will be gone. We really like keeping our data in the hands of the generators of that data.
  3. That our research could find at the time. We’re excited to know about them, and to list them over on networked mortality.