Creating an online space to remember the deceased

Most people see the recent explosion of social-networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook as new avenues to stayin touch with friends or promote breaking cultural trends.

Richard Derks, co-founder of Respectance, an online tribute site with offices in San Francisco, saw the latest networking developments as an opportunity to create something a little more profound.

“We wanted to take the community aspects of MySpace and Facebook and apply to them this specific niche of paying tribute to the deceased,” said Derks, who co-founded the music file-sharing site Kazaa along with his business partner, Todd Wilkinson. “We were looking for ways people could honor their loved ones in a respectful and communal manner, and we realized that there was no other site out there offering these capabilities.”

The idea for Respectance first evolved when Wilkinson’s mother died in his native Canada while he was in Poland, leaving him unable to attend the funeral on such short notice.

“Todd couldn’t get back to Canada in just three days, so he began to compile memories of his mother,” said Derks, a native of the Netherlands. “Through interacting with his relatives he found out so much he didn’t know about her, and he wanted to share all those memories with everyone who she was involved with. This led us to the idea of Respectance.”

Respectance acts as a normal social-networking site, where members can create tributes to the deceased by uploading photos and videos, and writing biographies that recall memories and induce dialogue. The combination of an available emotional outlet with social networking features has led Derks and company to dub Respectance a form of emo-social media.

Those who have been honored on Respectance range from public to anonymous figures. The tribute pages can either be openly contributed to by any interested participants or remain the private domain of a single network.

The site, which has received $1.5 million in financial backing from Solar Ventures and Big Bang Ventures, has gathered attention since officially launching in July. There are about 1,000 users who frequent Respectance, and 40 percent of those participants actively use the site’s resources to create tributes — a trend that Derks said he believes is an encouraging sign.

“We really don’t think there are any other sites out there with this focus, so we believe any other competing sites have still yet to be created,” Derks said. “Our number one concern is establishing this site as the most reputable and professionally conducted network of its kind.”

Richard Derks – Business

New project: Respectance

Last project: Kazaa

Number of e-mails a day: Umm, too many?

Number of voice mails a day: Too many, but every night when I’m asleep I get the most from those in European countries.

Essential Web site: Craigslist

Best perk: We have a water cooler in the office.

Gadgets: In Amsterdam we like a lot of gadgets.

Education: Yes

Last conference: Supernova

First job: Exporting Dutch cheese to France. Seriously.

Original aspiration: Only dead fish go with the flow.

Career objective: Give people control

Richard Derks – Personal

Hometown: Amsterdam

Sports/hobbies: I love my life. People are my hobby.

Transportation: Bicycle,always and everywhere — even to go shopping. It is better than the “greenest” Prius.

Favorite restaurant: Spork at Valencia

Computer: MacBook Slo

Vacation spot: Snowboarding at Dolomiti in Italy

Favorite clothier: Filippa K

Role Model: I admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her strong personality and daring to change the path her life was expected to take.

Reading: Douglas Coupland

Worst fear: Finding out my life was just a dream

Motivation: Feeling the rush and being confronted

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