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Assuming you are micro independent software vendor (MISV) or one man web shop (OMWS), how do you reduce your Bus Factor?

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In my specific case, I'm supporting a few websites that takes me a few minutes every couple of weeks when there is an update to publish, and once a year I renew the domain name. Easy tasks, but effectively I am the only person who has all the credentials. Ideally I would like to sleep better knowing that even if I become incapacitated there will be someone to support these online entities.

I would like to know what are the best practices and what are the interim solutions. In essence:

How do you ensure websites run smoothly after your death?

(I guess very few have hands-on experience here)

My suggestions:

  • deposit credentials / sensitive URLs in a safe box (next to your will)
  • pay upfront for 10 years of hosting / domain (and teach someone how to extend this lease)
  • create a trusted peer circle so you can exchange credentials (just in case)
  • create a company, become CEO, cash out on IPO (this is obviously not the case since supporting websites is not a lucrative business)

Or maybe there is already a service that securely stores all the credentials and takes action if the primary point of contact is out of reach? (if you want to grab this idea and build a startup please take me onboard)

Related: inactive account manager by Google. Someone can live without my Gmail account, but someone will not be happy if their website dies and domain is squatted on by a main competitor...you get the point.


I believe this is an issue that applies to many webmasters and I'd be inclined to know the answer or at least some ways to make this easier to manage.

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Interesting question - hopefully other Webmasters can share their protocols for reducing "bus factor". –  dan Nov 26 '13 at 7:03
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+1 This is a very interesting question and I find myself in exactly the same situation now you have mentioned it. –  Scott Helme Nov 26 '13 at 7:47
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See also on Freelancing SE: How can we prepare for “getting hit by a bus”? –  unor Nov 26 '13 at 11:47

2 Answers 2

The simplest thing to do is employ a dead man's switch that sends vital information to someone that you trust, and have established an agreement with to carry on or conclude a select few of your affairs or ventures if something should render you unable to continue with them.

In the simplest case, you have something set up to send an email to several people containing (or, telling them where to find):

  • Financial information (a statement of things as they are, financially)
  • Account / server credentials
  • Encryption keys and instructions on what to do with them
  • Contact information for those working with you, instructions on who needs to get what
  • Source code, or access to it, if applicable
  • Where to find credit card / payment methods to continue paying bills - or cash you've stashed for this purpose.

... and this triggers if you don't do something in a specified amount of time. For a while, when I was working mostly freelance, I had something like this set up to trigger if I didn't commit to a repository at least once in a two week period.

And yeah, there's already a service that simplifies this sort of thing, but you'd probably use that in conjunction with your own hidden 'stash', if you're not comfortable storing the keys to your metaphorical kingdom with a third-party directly.

These days, I just have passwords to various accounts that I own ready to send to my wife so she can shut them down properly (or manage them) in the event that something happens to me.

Note - this is no substitute for a proper will and testament and an appointed / trusted executor, however life sometimes puts us in circumstances where the traditional isn't always possible - and incapacitated doesn't always mean dead.

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Here are a number of simple steps which will make it easy for someone to take over after you are gone:

  1. Give clients plenty of time to figure it out. Don't register domains for only one year at a time, go longer. Domains are fairly cheap and there is little reason to choose shorter-term registration.
  2. For client websites, record all necessary details that another web developer or website administrator would need to know to take over the project. Give that to the client and tell them what it is and explain the limitations (for example, you wouldn't include SSH keys or logins which would grant access to machines with multiple clients' websites).
  3. Choose the domain registrar and host carefully. Some, like Gandi.net, allow you to delegate permissions to renew hosting, configure DNS, and other tasks to a separate account. That means you can have one master account that oversees every client website, and individual accounts per client that they could hand over to the next developer to resume control.
  4. Prepaid credits - this relates to the first point and is optional. It does increase the time people have to make a decision if there is a financial buffer in place.
  5. Choose a CMS than can auto-update, and enable auto-updating (for at least security patches) on the host machine(s). There is some peril here as updates can break things. So can not updating, so weigh your options.
  6. Communicate with the clients. This is the biggest, most important step. I tell people upfront 'If I get hit by a bus what do you do about your website?' I usually get a nervous laugh or a funny look, then I hand them the printed details from steps 2 & 3 and explain that they should find another developer and give them the papers, they'll know what to do from there.
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I like your sixth step. I'm gonna do that –  Tomáš Zato May 20 at 22:18

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