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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.