If anyone remembers Bebo, it was one of the first popular social networks to come out of the mid-naughties.
But when Bebo was sold to AOL by its founders, Michael and Xochi Birch, in 2008, it was assumed by many (including myself) we’d seen the last of it. This wasn’t because it had a bad platform or business model – in fact, at times it rivalled its then contemporary MySpace for user experience and design.
Bebo’s problem was the track record of social networks that become, well, the norm.
Additionally, web start-ups sold by founders to bigger companies often don’t turn out well. AOL’s management of Bebo is a well-documented disaster when looking at bang for its buck. But, again, it wasn’t the fault of the network.
A horrid combination of poor management by those who aren’t passionate about the product, and competition with new networks and products makes social networking a difficult space to be truly successful. As it goes with online platforms, after a period of time their usage stats drop off, users migrate to new networks or platforms, or networks simply implode with the responsibility of looking after so many hungry networkers.
So the question remains: after a long, soul-searching hiatus in the hands of another owner, can Bebo regain its popularity with its original brain trust?
When Bebo arrives in its new form, how well will it do against shiny new platforms like Snapchat or Instagram? Michael Birch seems confident that it can regain users and play a new role in the online world (despite the cock and balls).
Some can argue that Bebo has been in the doldrums long enough for the new generation of social followers to not be put off by its past baggage. The problem for Bebo is that the internet won’t let them forget.
Any new user can find the gory details on Wikipedia and decide it’s a platform from the olden days. Will it incorporate the new direction in web technology, not only being mobile but intuitive to user action and feeling?
Look at MySpace for a moment – after its purchase by Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited for a ridiculous amount of money, it took a nosedive that even Justin Timberlake can’t seem to correct. While its new owners (Timberlake and Specific Media Group) have done an admirable job to slow its trajectory, MySpace has not returned to its previous heights. Why? Users have moved on.
Viable alternatives to MySpace’s current mission (to promote/play music and bands) have already taken hold in the form of BandCamp and digital music streaming apps Spotify, Rdio and Guvera.
I’m yet to see an example of any social network sold by its founders that is able to return and compete with the next new thing.
Why? The passion is missing. As any new media start up would know, when the passion is gone it becomes very hard to keep the momentum going.
Let’s hear what you think? Will new Bebo sink or swim?