Five ways Bebo could actually make a comeback

The site’s founder, Michael Birch, has just bought it back for $1m.

In 2008 AOL purchased the social network Bebo for $850m. Five years on, the site’s founder, Michael Birch has bought it back for just $1m. After years of decline, he is now hoping to turn the site around, but what, if anything, can he do to help it compete with Facebook?

Here are five ideas:

  1. Ditch the boring bits

Teenagers loved the customizability of Bebo. Profiles were vibrant and frequently littered with user-created content. Pages bursting with colour offered individuals a way to express themselves. When the great migration to Facebook was made, many complained that the site was sterile and dull. Most resigned themselves to Facebook as it offered the best way to communicate but some have since joined Tumblr in search of a creative platform. If Bebo can somehow marry the two, it may reap considerable rewards.

  1. Learn from Facebook’s mistakes

Bebo would enjoy substantial support if it simply avoided upsetting as many people as Facebook has. The social networking behemoth has frequently come under fire for failing to properly police its site. If Bebo can offer a platform that deals with users’ complaints more effectively, it will surely enjoy the loyalty of users and advertisers increasingly disenfranchised by Facebook’s complacency.

  1. Become the social network people can actually trust

After a string of governmental and corporate scandals in recent years, people are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy and the way their personal information is dealt with. It is not unusual to hear of friends deleting their Facebook profiles or Google accounts because of the way their data is handled and even less rare to hear them complaining about it. Bebo should rise to the challenge of becoming the social network people can actually trust.

  1. Get better apps

This is another way to get one over on Facebook. The official mobile apps for the social network are frequently slammed for being unresponsive, but are suffered by those who don’t realise there are alternatives. If Bebo bring out fast and functional apps for Android and iOS, they are sure to win approval from both the tech world and frustrated mobile Facebookers.

  1. Don’t offer a dry cleaning service

Some social networks have, in the past, attempted to be all things to all people. It may be tempting to offer users video hosting, radio stations and a dry cleaning service, in an attempt to keep them engaged, but time and money should first be spent on getting the core features of the social network working well. Bebo must nail the basics before branching out in other directions.

It will not be easy for Bebo to make an impact in the crowded social media landscape and even harder for it to take users from the undisputed king. Birch himself acknowledges he doesn’t know if it’ll be possible to bring Bebo back from the brink. But he is in a good position; he has plenty of capital from the original sale and his own tech company to utilize. If he learns from those that failed before him, he may just have a chance.

Photograph: Mike Lewis

James is a freelance journalist with a particular interest in UK politics and social commentary. His blog can be found hereYou can follow him on Twitter @jamesevans42.

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Leader: The angry middle

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern.

Two months after the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, it remains conventional wisdom that the referendum result was largely a revolt by the so-called left behind. Yet this is not the full picture. Many of the 52 per cent who voted Leave were relatively prosperous and well educated, yet still angry and determined to deliver a shock to the political system. We should ask ourselves why the English middle class, for so long presumed to be placid and risk-averse, was prepared to gamble on Brexit.

Populism has long appealed to those excluded from political systems, or from a share in prosperity. In recent years, however, its appeal has broadened to young graduates and those on above-average incomes who also feel that they have not benefited from globalisation. The sense of middle-class victimhood has become a major strand in Western politics.

In the United States, middle-class anger has powered support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The former drew his activist base mostly from young liberals. And while Mr Trump’s success in the Republican primaries was often attributed to a working-class insurrection against “the elites”, exit poll data showed that the median yearly income of a Trump voter was $72,000, compared with a national average of $56,000. (For supporters of Hillary Clinton, the figure was roughly $61,000.) It is not the have-nots who have powered Mr Trump’s rise, but the have-a-bits.

In the UK, similar forces can be seen in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, research shows that three-quarters of Labour Party members are from the top social grades, known as ABC1. About 57 per cent have a degree.

Mr Sanders, Mr Trump and Mr Corbyn have very different policies, ideologies and strategies, but they are united by an ability to tap into middle-class dissatisfaction with the present order. Some of that anger flows from politicians’ failure to convey the ways in which society has improved in recent years, or to speak truthfully to electorates. In the UK and much of the West, there have been huge gains – life expectancy has risen, absolute poverty has decreased, teenage pregnancy has fallen to a record low, crime rates have fallen, and huge strides have been made in curbing gender, sexual and racial discrimination. Yet we hear too little of these successes.

Perhaps that is why so many who are doing comparatively well seem the most keen to upset the status quo. For instance, pensioners voted strongly to leave the EU and are the demographic from which Ukip attracts most support. Yet the over-65s are enjoying an era of unprecedented growth in their real incomes. Since 2010, the basic state pension has risen by over four times the increase in average earnings. 

Among young people, much of their anger is directed towards tuition fees and the iniquities of the housing market. Yet, by definition, tuition fees are paid only by those who go into higher education – and these people receive a “graduate bonus” for the rest of their lives. Half of school-leavers do not attend university and, in a globalised world, it is their wages that are most likely to be undercut by immigration.

However, we should not be complacent about the concerns of the “angry middle”. The resentment exploited by Donald Trump is the result of 40 years of stagnant median wages in the United States. In Japan and Germany, median wages have not increased in the past two decades. In the UK, meanwhile, the median income for those aged 31-59 is no greater than it was in 2007, and those aged 22-30 are 7 per cent worse off, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

To compound the problem, the wealthy keep getting wealthier. In 1980, American CEOs were paid 42 times the wage of the average worker. They are now paid 400 times as much. In the UK, the share of household income going to the top 1 per cent has more than doubled since 1979. Because of our hyperconnected, globalised media culture, we see more of the super-rich, fuelling feelings of resentment.

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern, with voters oscillating between populists of the left and the right. The political centre is hollowing out. Rather than pander to the populists, we must do more to quell the politics of victimhood by addressing the root of this corrosive sense of grievance: entrenched inequality. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser