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Default Monster.com Founder Starts Social Networking Site for the Dead

Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor helped you find a job, and helped ease you into middle age. Now he wants to help you build the last web page you'll ever need.
Tributes.com is scheduled for a soft launch in June. It aims to provide a central location to house online memorials for those who have passed on. It's starting with $4.3 million in funding, with The Wall Street Journal as a lead investor.
Taylor, who retired from Monster.com in 2005, says Monster was intended to take the jobs section of newspaper's classified ads online. So online obituaries seemed like an inevitable next step.
"I'm extremely bullish about this business -- it's not a question of if it will explode, but when," says Taylor, who spun the business off his baby boomer social networking site Eons.com. "I've watched and built a career on migrating the whole newspaper to the web, and the obituary section is the laggard category."
The site comes as the funeral industry is learning to target the public's desire to grieve online for the dearly departed. On social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, online memorials are springing up organically to give friends, family members and strangers a place to mourn, and even small, family-owned funeral homes have begin offering web-based memorials for their customers.
The site sets itself apart from other memorial sites like SweetMemoriesSite.com, ChristianMemorials.com and PreciousMemoriesAndMore.com in two ways. First, people can find information on those who've died with a name search from a database that includes the entire Social Security Death Index since 1936. And second, the site plans to market more to the funeral industry than other sites, where individuals pay for tributes.
Tributes will allow people to verify deaths, get memorial service information, and leave tributes and messages -- the first such site that works by searching on an individual's name.
"Until Tributes, people had to have very specific information -- where their friends died and what funeral home handled the services -- to find out what happened and leave memorials," said John Heald, a funeral director who is working with Tributes.com. "We are building a channel to the funeral industry to build our site with them, so we can be an aggregator for all the obituaries."
Tributes plans to sell its service to funeral homes that will then package an online tribute with the other services offered to the bereaved. Obits will stay up indefinitely, while condolences may come down after five to 10 years.
"We need to learn from MySpace. For example, when a teenager dies there are thousands of condolences," Heald says. "It's a new, important, effective way of grieving."
The death-care industry is ready to embrace an idea like Tributes.com, says Robin Heppell, who coaches funeral directors on how to use the web to promote their business and to make their services more valuable.
"People who spend the winter in Florida log on to faraway websites during the winter to check to see who died back home," the Vancouver-based funeral director and consultant says. "Most funeral homes have websites now, and those that don't are looking at setting up."
Mortuaries with well-established websites, like Pellerin Funeral Home in Louisiana and Haskett Funeral Homes in Canada, say the amount of traffic they get, and the way the websites are used, surprise even them. Both family-owned businesses have learned to upload video tributes to their sites, and keep a condolence page open to collect messages long after the funerals.
"I have friends who check the website every day to see who's died, and our parish sheriff leaves a tribute for every one," says Debbie Gauthier, who manages the Pellerin website. "We know it's one of the best things we can do for the family -- the tributes and condolences are comforting to people long after the funeral has ended."
There's definitely a hunger for online memorials. The Pellerin website includes a longstanding video tribute to Pope John Paul, who died in April 2005, that still gathers many hits a day. "You can watch that one forever, we won't be taking it down," Gauthier says.
And Heppell points to the memorial page on Facebook for Stefanie Rengel, a 14-year-old Toronto girl murdered in January. "Ten thousand people offered condolences, memories and comfort," Heppell says.
The industry is already learning that a decedent's self-created MySpace or Facebook profile can be jarring for the families of the recently deceased. Heppell advised funeral homes to "have one of the deceased friends look at their page first, because there can be suggestive photos and explicit language that the families aren't ready to deal with."
Taylor, who left Monster.com in 2005 to launch Eons.com, a website popular with aging baby boomers, started his newest venture after noticing that there was no central repository for online memorials where one could grieve and remember -- and verify the loss of -- a loved one.
He spun Tributes off Eons as a separate entity, and sought investors to give Tributes five to 10 years to take off.
"Jeff always had his eye on Monster's obits, and he noticed the obits weren't getting any traction for getting online, even when every other section of a traditional newspaper had made the transition," Haney says. "When he evolved a strategy for Eons as a lifestyle brand for boomers, he saw that the grieving groups are very popular at Eons."
By harvesting the U.S. Death Index, Tributes will automatically have a listing for everyone who dies, or who has died since 1936.
The website also plans to offer round-the-clock grief support groups.
"Traditional support groups that meet once a week aren't as valuable to members as the 24/7 online groups," Haney says.


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