LONDON, March 13, 2007 -- If some people still have scruples about putting personal information on the Web, they may be unsettled to hear of a new Internet trend: funeral webcasting.
Lately, Web surfers have been sharing live images of their loved ones' funerals over the Internet.
The phenomenon is turning into quite an industry for Anglo-Saxon countries, such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, where mortuaries are setting up Internet services to allow families remote attendance to their relatives' last rites.
"There has been a huge spike in interest since we started business 3½ years ago," said Joseph Joachim, president of FuneralOne, which supplies its funeral webcasting software to more than 2,000 mortuaries across the country. "We recently webcast a funeral live from Staten Island [N.Y.] to Thailand."
After the propagation of wedcast sites such as webcastmywedding.net, sharethemomentwithus.com and vowcast.com, it was only a matter of time before the Web extended its service to funerals.
Funeral webcasting provides live video of the ceremony to relatives and friends who cannot join the deceased in their last journey. The funeral home will usually set up cameras inside the chapel, and use a specifically designed software to feed the images to a Web site.
For small mortuaries like Leitz Fraze Funeral Home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., following the new trend is a business imperative, which doesn't come without problems.
"We've had a lot of requests over the years, and unfortunately we haven't been able to come through with many of them," said Debbie Pugh, secretary at Leitz Fraze.
Leitz Fraze's system, she explains, collapses whenever more than two users are logged in at the same time. Two weekends ago, relatives watched the funeral in another state, but without the sound.
But glitches will soon be a problem of the past as the industry adapts and perfects its services. Software providers like FuneralOne can create video albums of the deceased for the family, or offer a personalized Web site to celebrate the deceased's life, including a genealogical tree page, a biography page and a donation collection system.
The S. Clarke and Son funeral parlor in Newtownard, Northern Ireland, has been running free Internet services for two years.
According to director Jim Clarke, it is difficult for the Irish diaspora to return home to honor the death of a parent, a determining factor in the creating of its Internet service.
S. Clarke and Son is currently upgrading its software, which provides relatives and friends with a password to protect their intimacy as well as the feed flow.
"In their grievance, some relatives struggle to attend anyway," Clarke said. "Our Internet service takes a lot of pressure off them."
With basic packages starting at $95 at FuneralOne, and about $301 at funeralcast.com.au -- including a digital guest book and audience tech support -- it's not hard to imagine how much of a relief funeral webcasting can be.
A round trip from America to Europe rarely costs less than $300 per person, while one to Australia soars to $600, and that's not including the cost of accommodation.
As attending a funeral online becomes more socially acceptable -- and user-friendly -- there's no telling how many relatives will choose the webcast funeral over the more traditional option.
People may now think twice before making that more costly voyage to a relative's grave, and perhaps sanctity will have its place in the digital world.