I know I have been tough on AOL in the recent past. Unfortunately, they make themselves such an easy target that you almost feel dirty taking shots. After reading today’s article in the WSJ about AOL’s attempt at truly breaking into the social networking space with its relaunch of Bebo I had to go back to the well just one more time.
AOL bought what is promoted as the No. 3 social media website on the web, Bebo. OK, let’s stop here and take a look. First, I feel like I have my fill of social media / networking with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I know I am not a social media butterfly but most human beings have other things to do than track more social media outlets. Second, having said that what the heck is Bebo? If you are a user please comment and explain this thing, please.
AOL and Time Warner are not exactly the poster children for strong acquisitions and great execution with web businesses. It then makes perfect sense that AOL would spend $850 million in March of this year to bring on what Time Warner’s Chief Executive, Jeff Bewkes, called the “riskiest acquisition’ that his company has made this year.
The big question that hangs over the MySpace, Facebook and other social media players is how to monetize this traffic they get. Apparently Bebo’s success is mostly in places other than the US. October numbers for US traffic truly bear this out with comScore (insert accuracy alert here) reporting that MySpace had 76.3 million unique visitors, Facebook came in at 46 million and Bebo was at 5.9 million. Yup, 5.9 million. Not exactly chopped liver but compared to the big players it’s not exactly awe inspiring either.
Now for the punch line. Bebo’s Chief Executive is Joanna Shields and she has an impressive resume including senior level executive experience at Google and other Silicon Valley start ups. You would think that someone who has that kind of experience and awareness that no one has a real clue as to how to monetize social media / networking would avoid being known for saying the following:
Ms. Shields says the market will figure out an advertising model eventually and that Bebo is well-positioned to succeed. “You would have to be stupid,” she says. “You would have to trip to not succeed at this at some point.”
Nothing like saying that you would have to be an idiot to not monetize this thing that no one has figured out yet which is apparently an easy slam dunk at some point in the future. Way to go with the projections! In the current economic times I would suspect that many people (uhhh, Time Warner shareholders?) would like to hear something a little more definitive from a company that took the slam dunk of the first internet wave, AOL, and drove a stake in its heart.
I’m done ranting. I’m just tired of hype and speculation. The last thing we need is more of the same at a time where change is the mantra. Your take?