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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.