An ofrenda to tech ghosts

This session is facilitated by Kara Carrell

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About this session

We all change, and we all die, but our code lives on forever… Or Does It? This session will take a look at dead (or dying) projects, and the impact it has on our lives. As Dia De Los Muertos teaches us, people live on in the memories we leave with them. How might we apply that to our work as we become maintainers ourselves? Last, there are many reasons why a project may die. how might we prepare ourselves to honor the wishes and the original vision of maintainers as they take that step to move on from their work?

Goals of this session

  • We will discuss the effects of dead or abandoned tech projects on tech and end users, and how it relates to death through the lens of Dia De Los Muertos.

  • We will discuss and build practices for open source maintainers to consider their exit strategy for the code they write.

  • We will give space and tribute to people and projects that are no longer with us by building an ofrenda inspired by the traditions of Dia De Los Muertos.

Session Outline & Resources:

An Ofrenda To Tech Ghosts

Kara Carrell @KaraAJC

TableXI, Chicago USA


Acknowledgements & Content Warnings

  • This session discussed death and loss, and attendees were asked to contribute from their personal experiences.
  • This session was a part of the Queering space, and delivered through the Openness space


Build an Ofrenda for tech ghosts

Attendees were asked to think about 3 projects, products, or people that are no longer with us, use a placard to name each one, and in the back, write something that they cherished or was helpful about it.


In small groups, Attendees talked about loss and tribute, in tech and in our personal experiences, while sharing about (at least) one of the placards they wrote.

About Me

  • I’m a Software Developer at TableXI, a Software Consultancy in Chicago.
  • I’m a Community Organizer for Write/Speak/Code, a US organization dedicated to technologists of Marginalized Genders leveling up/showcasing their skills by writing, speaking, and contributing to open source.
  • I’m a Blaxican (Mixed African American and Mexican), and as I grow to know myself and my heritage more, I’ve come to know traditions like Dia De Los Muertos.

Where did this talk come from?

In my role as a consultant, we have clients whose projects we maintain, and while addressing a ticket, I came upon a dependency that had been abandoned, AND a fork of that dependency also abandoned, which led to the question, “what happens when maintainers are no longer available, or worse, what happens when they die?”

This led to also consider what it means when products are no longer available to us, and the emotional connection we hold to them.

Last, this was around the time of Dia De Los Muertos, and the release of the movie Coco, and i wondered, What would it look like to consider the question through the lens of Dia De Los Muertos?

What is Dia De Los Muertos?

  • A celebration of the dead on the 2nd of November from the Aztec culture, largely celebrated in Mexican communities.
  • Involves an Ofrenda or an Altar that welcomes those who are no longer with us, back to be in community.

Terms and concepts I learned from researching this topic

  • Sunsetting (the planned discontinuation of a project/product)
  • Graveyards (documentation of failed projects, largely used in Venture capital and startup communities)
  • The Bus Factor (the concept to explain a measurement of the risk resulting from information and capabilities not being shared among team members, derived from the phrase “in case they get hit by a bus.”
  • Post-Mortem (a process, usually performed at the conclusion of a project, to determine and analyze elements of the project that were successful or unsuccessful)

How do folks deal with abandoned projects right now?

  • “Just Fork It”
  • They don’t… creating tech waste

How do folks deal with death in open source right now?

What lessons can we take from Dia de los Muertos?

  • Ritual is important
  • The end of something should be celebrated
  • People and things live on in the memories we hold and share of them

I think:

  • When we create technology, we’re creating a thing that lives, and as such, we need to consider it’s death, and respect the relationship built between the creator and those who depend on the code, or who delight in it’s use.
  • There’s something powerful about ritual, and it’s important for us to consider how to build that into the open source community.


How Might We… Brainstorming Activity

In groups, Attendees were asked to try to answer one of these questions:

  • how might we prepare ourselves to honor the wishes of maintainers as they take that step to move on from their work?
  • how might we plan for the end as we start a project?
  • how might we create ritual for the transition or sunsetting of a project?
  • how might we create space to celebrate projects that are no longer with us, but gave us something to cherish or learn?

Images of the Ofrenda

In addition to the placards that attendees created during the session, the ofrenda included the 23 names of trans folks who were murdered or committed suicide in the US in 2019.

How to continue the discussion

  • Use the hashtag #OfrendaToTechGhosts on Twitter
  • Contribute more resources for example practices around death or project transition.
  • Consider rituals or practices from your culture or community that could surface practices for the Open Source Community.
1 Like

Session Input & Outcomes:

Reasons folks attended the session:

  • I’m interested in the idea of haunted technology both by the dead and by software/services
  • Too many projects can wither and die; none of us live for ever
  • The thought of what happens to projects after you die seemed quite interesting to me, since I have a personal project that I hope will have some longevity!
  • I regularly encounter tech ghosts. I’m here to find out who i’m going to call :wink:
  • My cat died two years ago but haunts my “3 months ago/3 years ago” feed… forever?
  • I have a weird fascination with Death/Dying
  • because people need help learning how to let go

Tech Ghosts folks shared:

  • Libra

  • BlogSpot

  • “Web 2.0”

  • Yahoo Groups

  • Rdio

  • Ida B Wells

  • Mr Grizzly

  • Radio CPR

  • Sunlight Foundation

  • Mozilla Personas

  • Firebeat

  • Why?

  • Blanca

  • Gugulson

  • Newscoop

  • iCanHazCheezburger

  • Livejournal

  • Friendster


  • RSS (“not dead…yet but almost”)

  • ThingBox

  • Geocities

  • Firefox OS Phone

  • Citizen Desk

  • Cyanogen Nod

  • < Keygen/ >

  • Popcorn.js

  • Pieter Hintjens

  • Vine

  • Anonimity on the web

  • Dev Bootcamp



  • Smartphones with hardware keyboards

  • google reader

  • google images API v1.0

  • Dennis Ritchie

  • DabbleDB

  • Edith Windsor

  • Brother Mike

  • BackPage

  • Xanadu & Memex

  • Pledgebook

  • Aaron Schwartz

  • Chris Lightfoot

  • AltaVista

  • TikTok (“I’m not dead yet”)

  • Best Intentions, 2009


Session Input & Outcomes:

How do we plan for the end?

  • Projects should have multiple maintainers, and at least one extra person with admin access.
  • we should talk more amongst ourselves about “what happens if I can’t work on this anymore?”
  • Periodically review files in your project that haven’t been touched in a long time.
  • There’s a discoverability problem in open source. we should create a service to help guide old maintainers to new maintainers
  • Create “github wills” with dead switches if a maintainer doesn’t log in for X amount of time
  • Create a testament with instructions for how to handle code when a maintainer disappears

Resources for practices around death and open source

1 Like

Hey @KaraAJC… I didn’t get to go to your actual session as I was wrangling the Openness Floor but as someone who has family traditions that include Dia de Los Meurtos, I loved your ofrenda and how it honored those (projects or people) that have gone before us.

Thank you for including these notes w/ links to resources. I’ll be returning here for thoughts & ideas as I manage projects that move into “another internet plane”.

Kara, here’s an image of the beautiful installation you created at the Festival.


Thank you so much! I’m very interested in hearing how folks think more about death and open source, so i’ll be keeping an eye out for thoughts!

1 Like

Thank you for sharing this!

Wanted to share this inititative Github is doing on archiving open source for 1,000 years: