The basic idea is simple. if i die.org gives you a way to say some last words to someone when those words can't be said in person.
This website provides a way for you to write and store letters to your friends. Each letter, when finished, will be stored securely and encrypted with a special password of your choosing. No one will be able to read any of your letters while you're still alive. If someone attempts to read a letter, this website will initiate a process to determine whether you are in fact dead and whether your letter should be released. As a first precaution, if i die.org will send you an email every day for two weeks - if you respond to these emails your letter will stay locked. If you don't respond, all is not lost - if i die.org will then attempt to contact up to five of your closest friends (of your choosing) every day for two more weeks. If any of them respond to say that you are alive, your letter will stay locked. You letter will only be unlocked if neither you nor any of your friends responds to a month of constant emails.
You can write whatever you want - the website simply provides a blank document. You can write a short letter, a long letter, a love letter, or even a hate letter. Really, what you write is up to you. If you want ideas, see what my friends are doing. Remember: these notes will not be sent - they will be encrypted and stored securely on the website.
These SafeGuards should be people you trust, and who generally know whether you're dead or alive. But don't worry - the SafeGuards will not be able to read your notes, they're there to provide an added layer of security. If someone tries to read a note you've written, and if for whatever reason you don't respond to email or SMS, this website will check with your SafeGuards before sending your notes and letters.
A secure mechanism ensures that no one can read the letters while you're alive: Say you've written a private letter to your friend Tim, and that Tim knows he's not supposed to read the letter but wants to anyways. When Tim tries to access the letter through this website, he will be temporarily denied, and if i die.org will start sending you messages every day telling you that Tim is trying to read his letter. If you respond to these messages (by clicking a link inside the message, or by logging in to if i die.org), Tim will be permanently prevented from reading the letter you wrote to him. If you don't respond within two weeks, then this website will check with your SafeGuards to see if you're alive. Again, if i die.org will send your SafeGuards messages every day for two more weeks, telling them what Tim is doing and asking them to respond if you are still alive. If any of your SafeGuards responds to say that you're alive, your letter will remain locked and unreadable. The only way that Tim will be allowed to read your letter is if you and your SafeGuards drop off the face of the planet for a month. Finally, if you're extra-paranoid, you can configure your account so that it will spend up to four months trying to contact you and your SafeGuards before unlocking your note.
There are two ways by which this website will know that you have died and that your notes should be sent. The first way is described above: one of your friends tries to read the note you wrote him, and neither you nor your SafeGuards respond to the daily alerts sent to you by if i die.org. If no one responds for a full month, you will be assumed dead and your notes will be unlocked and sent. (Of course, for this to work you friend must know that the note exists. Thus, for each note you write, if i die.org can optionally be set to send out an email notifying the recipient that a note exists, with instructions for how to access the note if you've died).
The second way this website will know to release your notes is if your SafeGuards tell it to. Each SafeGuard that you list on your account will receive a short email explaining how the website works. This email will also contain a special link that the SafeGuard can click if something happens to you and he/she believes that your notes should be unlocked. If your SafeGuard clicks the special link, it will initiate a process similar to the one described (if i die.org will try to contact you and your other SafeGuards for one month before assuming that you are dead). Finally, if you're paranoid that no one will remember that you've stored notes on if i die.org, you can optionally configure your account to send out reminders to your SafeGuards every year (or half year, or two years) to make sure they don't forget.
Try it out!
The mechanism is really quite simple, but me and my friends spent many long nights figuring out the best way to keep your notes as safe as possible. I think that if you really think about it, you'll agree that if i die.org will do two things effectively: (1) Make sure no one reads your letters if you don't die, and (2) Make sure that the letters will be released if you do. The website is free to use, so go create an account and try it out for yourself. If you find the website really useful or really annoying, let me know.