The Continuity Problem

Products have a perspective problem. Their view of a user’s journey is too narrow and fails to account for the fact that our engagement with them is starting earlier and increasingly, lasts until we die.

According to a 2014 survey conducted by Gerber, close to 40 percent of moms aged 18 to 34 created social media accounts for their baby before the child’s first birthday — and another 7 percent made one before their kid’s second birthday. And according to statistics related to growth of deaths on Facebook, the worldwide total is in the millions as of 2013. In just seven years, this death rate will double, and in seven more years it will double again. The deaths per year will continue to grow for many decades, as the generation who was in college between 2000 and 2020 grows older.

The challenge this trend presents is that the continuity of content isn't possible. The current design is modeled off a user journey in which there is a single, isolated user who begins and ends their own account. As people start their 'life' on Facebook (or other social networks) earlier, this model breaks because it doesn't support the ability to transfer ownership or content as the person comes of age. The same happens when the individual dies. 

Social network services generate rich personal content that people increasingly view as invaluable records of their life experiences. If parents are creating profiles for their children, this process starts outside the control of the individual. When that person dies, these services provide, at best, profile deactivation or memorial options. While this supports access control or removal it leaves us with little ability to collect, preserve and pass on these valuable heirlooms to our relatives in any meaningful way. Instead we are left with significant parts of our personal heritage floating in a digital purgatory, just out of reach to those who treasure it most.

I believe highly personal and social products have an obligation to address their users’ needs related to preserving and passing on their digital content after death. I'm currently working on defining a framework for the user journey that incorporates this 'whole life' perspective. As longer swaths our lives are entangled in digital spaces, products will need to take a longer view of the user journey and support life-related transition points.