As social networks like Facebook and MySpace take on prominent roles for people in mourning, so too does the Web's leading obituary site find itself getting into social networking.
Legacy.com, a site with more than 13 million unique users a month and partnerships with more than 750 U.S. newspapers, has created a virtual clearinghouse for the bereaved (or merely curious) by posting nearly every obituary published in the United States every day. The site also lets users create elaborate, interactive memorials for lost loved ones and get advice on grieving from experts. It even provides links to the obituaries of recently deceased celebrities on its home page, letting everyday people share their feelings about lost idols like Bernie Mac and John Updike.
"It is just an example of the power of the Web and people's need to connect," Hayes Ferguson, the company's chief operating officer, says of the site's popularity.
The need for greater interactivity between users became apparent when people began trying to connect with strangers through the "guest books" that accompany each obituary.
"We did see in the guest book the early signs of an attempt to do what we now know as social networking," Ferguson says. "People were reaching out to strangers to say, 'Hey, I suffered the same kind of loss, call me at this number.' Some users appreciated that, but others were sort of weirded out."
Thus was born Legacy Connect, the site's new social networking component, where users can create a profile and share resources, stories and information. Legacy Connect also hosts discussions on topics such as coping with loss and how to deal with sudden, unexpected deaths, all of which are moderated by Legacy.com's bereavement experts.
"Clearly, people want to connect in general, and in this particular category there is an obvious desire," Ferguson says. "We find it is an enormously helpful thing."