This year he decided to do something to keep her memory alive, and introduce her to people who would stumble across the gigantic 4,000-pound granite headstone he had custom-etched by Patten Monuments Co. of Comstock Park. Affixed to the tombstone is a postage-stamp-sized QR code that links to a web page where he can share stories and photos of his late wife.
Monumark, which produces the QR tags — QR is short for Quick Response Code, a type of matrix barcode — is a joint venture launched in January 2012 by Patten and Kalamazoo-based Ignertia.
You could call it Facebook for the dead.
"We're very happy with it," Dean said. "It doesn't intrude upon our privacy at all. I have people telling me every so often they go to the website to read about her, or to leave a message. It helps keep her memory alive. I also think she's the only one in Schoolcraft County who has one."
That claim is likely true since Monumark has sold only 75 QR tags so far, said Patten CEO Andy Bolt.
"We decided to get into social media and QR tags to have product appeal to a younger generation," Bolt said. "We want Baby Boomers to appreciate the value of a cemetery."
He also said with Monumark being based on the Internet, far-flung family and friends can view the tombstone, get GPS map coordinates to the plot and a satellite view of the cemetery from anywhere in the world. The account, free for five years if you buy a Patten monument, also includes three email accounts to alert family when someone leaves a comment on the deceased's Monumark page.
But you don't have to buy your headstone from Patten to use Monumark. Anyone interested in adding a QR tag to an existing burial site or memorial can purchase them separately for $55. The photos, GPS map and satellite view cost an additional $230. Monumark expects the tags to last at least a decade, and will replace them free of charge should they get weathered or vandalized.
To demonstrate the technology, the company set up sample page on its website, www.mnmrk.com.
"This technology offers people a simple, inexpensive way to stay connected with loved ones and allow theirmemories to live on for future generations," Bolt said.
Patten sells some 6,500 headstones and memorials each year through cemeteries, funeral homes and even in its own retail showroom in Comstock Park. So when Bolt was approached by Brandon Willard, one of 14 employees who own Ignertia, he loved the idea. Bolt is the former Patten marketing director who bought the 95-year-old company from the previous owners about six years ago.
"We put the pieces together to make it all work," said Willard, who runs the Monumark project. "It's a logical step to connect the tombstone to the web. The QR code gives a visual cue to do that."
Ignertia created and maintains the Monumark website as well as the redirect service that comes with the QR code, meaning that when someone scans the QR tag, a smartphone or tablet computer is redirected to the Monumark website.
Willard said Ignertia had met Bolt through mutual funeral home clients. Ignertia produces multi-media presentations of the deceased for 17 funeral homes in four states. Ignertia, which has been in business since 2008, also develops software and manages aspects of online marketing for many clients and industries ranging from law offices and insurance agencies to car dealerships and manufacturers.
"The QR codes definitely lets us market to mobile devices," Willard said. "We were waiting for the right technology to come along to help us bridge the gap. We're always looking for ways to expand our multi-media presentations business we do for funeral homes. I can't remember seeing anything else like this anywhere."
Mike Brennan is senior technology writer at MiBiz.Com. His day job is editor and publisher of MITechNews.com.