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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There's something missing from our counter-terrorism debate

The policy reckoning that occured after the 2005 terrorist attacks did not happen after the one in 2016. 

“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun.” That satirical lyric about Nazi rocket scientists has come to mind more than few times watching various tech giants give testimony in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, one of the underreported sub-plots of life at Westminster.

During their ongoing inquiry into hate crime in the United Kingdom, committee chair Yvette Cooper has found a staggering amount of hate speech being circulated freely on the largest and most profitable social media platform. Seperately, an ongoing investigation by the Times has uncovered how advertising revenue from Google and YouTube makes its way straight into the coffers of extremist groups, ranging from Islamist extremists to white supremacists and anti-Semites.

One of the many remarkable aspects of the inquiry has been the von Braunesque reaction by the movers and shakers at these tech companies. Once the ad revenue is handed out, who cares what it pays for? That’s not my department is the overwhelming message of much of the testimony.

The problem gains an added urgency now that the perpetrator of the Westminster attacks has been named as Khalid Masood, a British-born 52-year-old with a string of petty convictions across two decades from 1982 to 2002. He is of the same generation and profile as Thomas Mair, the white supremacist behind the last act of domestic terrorism on British shores, though Mair’s online radicalisation occurred on far-right websites, while Masood instead mimicked the methods of Isis attacks on the continent.  Despite that, both fitted many of the classic profiles of a “lone wolf” attack, although my colleague Amelia explains well why that term is increasingly outmoded.

One thing that some civil servants have observed is that it is relatively easy to get MPs to understand anti-terror measures based around either a form of electronic communication they use themselves – like text messaging or email, for instance – or a physical place which they might have in their own constituencies. But legislation has been sluggish in getting to grips with radicalisation online and slow at cutting off funding sources.

As I’ve written before, though there  are important differences between these two ideologies, the radicalisation journey is similar and tends to have the same staging posts: petty criminality, a drift from the fringes of respectable Internet sub-cultures to extremist websites, and finally violence.  We don’t yet know how closely Masood’s journey follows that pattern – but what is clear is that the policy rethink about British counter-terror after the July bombings in 2005 has yet to have an equivalent echo online. The success of that approach is shown in that these attacks are largely thwarted in the United Kingdom. But what needs to happen is a realisation that what happens when the rockets come down is very much the department of the world’s communication companies. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.