Proposal for an Internet Service: The Eternal Home Page
N. J. A. Sloane
Information Sciences Research Center,
AT&T Labs - Research, Florham Park, New Jersey 07932, U.S.A.
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 13, 1996. Revised November 11, 1997.
This paper describes a possible Internet service that
some major organization such as
Harvard University, AT&T,
the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers,
the American Mathematical Society, the American Medical Association,
or even the Vatican, might offer: a home page "in perpetuity".
Such a "perpetual page" or "eternity page" or
"e-memorial page" would be a home page that the organization would
help the customer set up, with a guarantee that it would
last for (say) 500 years, or until the organization no
It would list all the things that the customer would like to
be remembered for (accomplishments, family, etc.).
As the population of the U.S. ages,
such a service should prove very popular.
After all, almost everyone wants to be remembered by posterity.
The name for this service needs to be chosen with care, and
of course registered. "Eternity service",
"Perpetual page", "Eternity page", "E-memorial page",
are a few possibilities. I will use "Perpetual page"
in this paper.
The first version of this paper was written in
December 1996, although the idea for the "Perpetual home page"
first occurred to me in January 1996.
it turns out that other people have had similar ideas, and there may be some
commercial services that provide electronic gravestones available even now.
But my vision is that
this service would be offered by a major organization or institute,
that has already existed for a long time and
has some chance of existing 500 years from now.
And I'm not thinking of tombstones, but home-pages.
The "Perpetual page" could include such things as:
photographs of houses, boats, paintings, other precious possessions
lists of awards, accomplishments
writings, drawings, songs, even unpublished novels
(disk space is cheap)
links to perpetual pages of one's family (including ancestors!) and friends
This is the customer's chance to write their own
New York Times obituary page, or "time capsule".
(Many people do not realize that except for a handful of major obituaries,
every obituary item in the New York Times has to be
purchased at about $40 per line -- this can be a humiliating
experience for the next-of-kin.
Setting up a "Perpetual page" in advance for the sick
and elderly could be both therapeutic and comforting for the family.)
There should be a generous amount of disk
space available for each page - a minimum of ten megabytes,
to allow a number of photographs to be included. (Most Internet
providers at present do not allow nearly enough disk space.)
As my colleague
Andrew Odlyzko has pointed out in his
discussion of the future of scholarly journals,
the cost of disk space is dropping so rapidly that it is likely that
the cost of providing a service
in perpetuity will be not much more than that of providing it for
The organization would help the customer set up the initial page, and would
provide instructions on how to maintain it.
A "help desk" would be part of the service.
One way to structure the offer might be to tell customers:
For a one-time fee of $X, we will provide you with Y MB of
storage, and as long as you pay a small monthly fee,
you can keep modifying it. Once you stop paying the monthly fee
(say because you die, or switch to a different
provider) we will keep the latest version forever.
Part of the offer would be a guarantee that when the Internet is replaced
by some other service in a few years, all the "Perpetual pages"
would be automatically converted to the new medium.
It is important that the organization offering the servce
should have been in existence for a long time, and have a good chance of
still existing 500 hundred years from now.
The organizations mentioned in the Abstract certainly
satisfy these conditions, and it is easy to think of others.
Such a service would not carry much conviction
if offered by some tiny local Internet service provider.
This is the first time in history that such a thing is possible.
the New York Times} for Saturday Dec. 7 1996 describes (on page D2)
a patent, US 5,517,791, for a new tombstone design that can
incorporate a person's life story - including photographs.
So ideas like the one I am proposing are "in the air".
As one may verify by visiting cemeteries in New Jersey, tombstones are rarely
legible after a hundred years have passed. One of the advertisements for the
proposed service could show a family searching through a
cemetery full of grave stones that have been worn smooth,
looking for the lost grave of an ancestor. Furthermore,
as the world population continues to explode,
cemeteries will become increasingly irrelevant.
The "perpetual page" service would especially appeal to mature customers.
There are several ways in which advertisements could point out the futility
of earlier attempts to be remembered, even by world leaders.
For example, one advertisement could show a replica of the original
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus,
after which all later mausoleums are named.
(See The Oxford History of the Classical World,
ed. J. Boardman et al., Oxford, 1993, p. 150.)
One of the Seven Wonders of the World, it was
built in the year 353 for King Mausolus of Caria by his wife.
It no longer exists.
"But if King Mausolus had had a perpetual page, we could still read
about his victories today ...".
An alternative way in which the "perpetual page" could be used is
by family and friends after the death of a loved one, by setting up a
permanent memorial for the deceased. The Page would need to have an
authorized keeper, to screen out inappropriate material.
A certain amount of permanent space would be purchased, to which
interested parties could contribute in any way they wished.
Another advertisement could have a voice reading P. B. Shelley's
while the picture shows dust blowing around an appropriate ruin:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
It will also give all the unpublished poets and writers,
the unrecognized painters and musicians, the scientists
whose theories are rejected, the opportunity to have their
Yet another advertisement could have Jessye Norman singing the moving
and unforgettable aria "Remember Me"
from Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas".
(The formal title
is "Thy hand Belinda - when I am laid in Earth"
[Philips CD 434 161-2].)
Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Colin Mallows, Andrew Odlyzko,
Susanna Cuyler Sloane and Nambi Seshadri for a number of helpful comments.
See also: My home page |