Thursday, 8 April 2010

Social Network monopoly - the death of Bebo

It appears that the 'winner takes all' predictions about the social networking market are becoming truer by the day.

Yesterday the news that AOL would sell or close the social site, Bebo, effectively signaled the end of another once-successful social network which simply cannot compete with Facebook.

A couple of years ago Bebo was the only website that mattered in the playgrounds of the UK and Ireland when it hit the peak of coolness in 2007. Among 13- to 16-year-olds, Bebo was the place to be seen online, where members could blog, email each other, upload videos and design quizzes – while many adults just didn't quite get it.

AOL saw the potential in the site launched from a San Francisco living room by a husband and wife team and gobbled it up for an eye-watering $850m. Which even then analysts saw as a triumph of ego over due-dilgence.

It was the sites positioning and content that orginally set it apart from other sites and drove traffic to a peak of 40 million unique users in early 2008. An example of such content was the online drama serial Kate Modern.

However, it looks like AOL uninvested and misunderstood the brand Bebo. Compared to Facebooks 2,000 engineers; Bebo employed 40 - leading to technical issues which todays social networker has little patience for.

AOL aim to broaden appeal failed also. Moving away from a small but loyal audience was clearly an error. Figures from comScore show the dramatic shift – Bebo's monthly users in the UK fell by 60% from February 2009 to February 2010 to 3.8 million, while Facebook's grew 24% over the same period to 28.1 million.

So the still privately owned Facebook can count the passing of another social rival backed by big-spending corporates. ITV recently sold Friends Reunited for a mere $42m (just 14% of the purchase price). NewsCorps' My Space, a $580mill Murdoch punt, is struggling to re-position and losing share. And now Bebo goes.

Which all goes to show, people want to hang out where there friends are. So is there any hope for a non-monopolistic market in social networking?

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