High stakes for social media: The fate of the world could literally be on the line

fixing yahoo social mediaWouldn’t it be funny if fixing Yahoo saved the world? I don’t mean “ha ha” funny. I mean funny in that “for want of a nail the war was lost” way.

One of the social networks I spend much of my time watching is hosted on Yahoo Groups and has to do with saving the world. This week, for example, discussion centered around immortality and what taxonomy should be used to distinguish who should get the treatment. This group is the Lifeboat Foundation, an organization with an impressive membership, funding and target of saving the human race. Two of the more interesting initiatives are the AIShield, a program designed to protect against a Terminator-like mistake, and the NanoShield, designed to protect against the expected wave of nano weapons. The foundation is made up of folks who worry about stuff the weapons designers in a variety of countries are trying to build. Lifeboat has designed 25 programs to offset known exposures that could make us extinct as a race.

The Lifeboat Foundation showcases both the promise and the problem with Yahoo and Facebook. Yahoo still has a number of groups such as Lifeboat that are important to society. But few folks think you can do anything important on Facebook. Even kids are struggling with this property because too many parents are on Facebook now.

Yahoo and Facebook’s problems are related

Yahoo lost focus and tried to be Google. In doing so, Yahoo completely lost track of Yahoo Groups, which preceded MySpace and was clearly a better place for adults to congregate and discuss vital topics. Allowing kids in Yahoo Groups to talk about class, girls, boys and TV shows was great. But the adults often used their forums to discuss politics and projects, form companies and, in the case of the Lifeboat Foundation, save the world. Yahoo still has such groups focused on meaty issues, but the tools feel outdated, and the process often is painful and unproductive. Using Yahoo Groups almost feels as if you’ve dropped back into the 1990s when the Internet was young, and folks had no real idea how to manage discussions.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Facebook’s emphasis has been on the fun stuff, even for adults. You can find lots of LOLCats kind of activity in Facebook but little on sustained meatier topics. Facebook increasingly looks caught in the middle – not enough topics that adults want to engage in, and too many adults on Facebook to hold kids.

As a result, much of the growth in social networking is happening outside both properties. Lady Gaga largely started from scratch with her fan-based social network, and Ombud, a network for IT professionals, did much the same thing but on a different vector.

lifeboat foundation yahoo groups nanoshieldThe sad thing is that were either Yahoo or Google to do social networking better, they could not only be more relevant, but also they might save the world. Take the Lifeboat Foundation on Yahoo, for instance. Here is a massive group of people whose mission is to protect the human race from ending up like the dinosaurs. Yet they are making almost no progress, partially because they are fighting the tool instead of being helped by it. The possibility is real that the one magic idea which could keep humans from becoming fossils will be lost because Yahoo sucks. You have to wonder what other opportunities are being lost. The fact that Yahoo was critical to a number of those ideas, should they be implemented, could make Yahoo look relevant again, especially if people became aware of Yahoo’s role. What could be more relevant than a property where people are working on topics such as immortality, surviving a rogue planet collision (which created the moon if you were thinking a collision unlikely — current thoughts are the planet is coming back), and how to survive a nuclear winter?

Wrapping up

Both Yahoo and Facebook need to step back from the trees and start seeing the forest. The Facebook IPO that sank around $40 billion of folks’ savings gave the social network a bad rep. Yet social networking will likely be the means whereby we avoid many of the bad things that are in our future, from oppressive governments to cooked politicians and race-ending events. If we don’t get social networks to work, the prognosis for humans goes down significantly. If either Yahoo or Facebook can cause social networks to operate better, the companies not only become more valuable, but also they become far more relevant.

Here is hoping these companies figure out social networking before something happens that leaves the future up to the creatures that replace us as the dominant species on the planet, much as we replaced the dinosaurs. (I’m betting on the cockroaches.)

Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.

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