Posted December 10, 2008 8:50 am by with 12 comments

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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?

  • I’m not a Bebo user, but “bebo” appears to be the 8th most popular query in the UK according to Google’s 2008 Year-End Zeitgeist:

    The #1 query is “facebook”, though. 🙂

    Everfluxx’s last blog post..SEOmoz’s Web 2.0 award to an adware company

  • Adi

    Bebo is very popular amongst the younger end of the market here in the UK. A lot of teenagers use the site and it’s certainly useful enough. Not sure why it is deserving of such ridicule as I suspect this information could have been found out with a few minutes of research. I have my doubts over whether it represents value for money but just because a site isn’t pulling up trees in America doesn’t mean it isn’t viable 🙂

  • It seems to me that these various social media networks have widely disparate audiences. LinkedIn is clearly aiming at the professionals; Bebo is indeed popular here in the UK – among the under 16s. At least, the under 16s I know … and this is backed up by Quantcast figures which say that 44% of Bebo users are under 17, though these are US-based stats.

    Monetising a network that is mostly used by people not old enough to have a credit card or, indeed, any real income, is definitely going to be tricky.

    Lucy’s last blog post..New Study Shows Brands Have 60 Seconds to Deliver a Message

  • Bebo it a great social media site. I think the users of bebo has just increased.

  • @Adi

    Agreed. Something doesn’t need to work in the US to work but with AOL / TimeWarner being a US company with incredible assets here I suspect they are gunning for Facebook and MySpace like reach in the States. The ridicule comes because we live in times where company executives need to be responsible (can you say ‘Bailout”?). The statement that an $850 million dollar investment of shareholder money will make money but having no plan to get there smells of the thinking that led to the last internet bubble. If you were a shareholder would you think that the comments from the Chief Executive were encouraging?

    Frank Reed’s last blog post..Your Thoughts Please?

  • Funny. I just don’t understand investing in a company that you don’t have the slightest idea about how you’re going to monetize. It’s a mystery. lol.

  • I agree these social media outlets are finding it hard to make money by placing ads on there website. They need to re-think how they show ad inventory. if they would let the users of these sites control how and what ads are shown a little better I bet they would find that they would make more money.

    Jaan Kanellis’s last blog post..Top Christmas Songs – Jaan Found Santa CD

  • Adi

    I havn’t looked into Bebo in any depth but my guess would be they’d look into doing more things like Sofia’s Diary, which was an interactive soap opera that attracted some 5 million viewers. Given the broadcasting abilities in TW that would seem sensible to explore that kind of thing more.

    Adi’s last blog post..Are you Mahayana or Hinayana?

  • Bebo is basically the MySpace of the UK. You shouldn’t have been snide about it, that was messed up.

    Amy Lightholder’s last blog post..Four Great Social Media Articles

  • PS3

    My take on it here in the UK is that Bebo is the big thing for teens, who then grow up and move up to Facebook, possibly via MySpace.

  • JT

    What the “heck” is bebo? indeed…..

    JT’s last blog post..Zen and PPC campaigns

  • AOL are the Royal Family of dumb when it comes to acquisitions.

    I have no doubt that whatever the value of Bebo today, AOL will render it worthless within months.

    Ami Ohayon’s last blog post..From Jerusalem to Boston