Can Bebo rise again?

HENRY COOKE
Last updated 11:51 18/08/2013
Bebo
IT LIVES: Bebo was once the social network of choice for young Kiwis, then lost its mojo.

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In my third form, Bebo was huge.

The year was 2006, and I was part of social network Bebo's base userbase. That is, english-speaking non-American early teens. Bebo never really caught on in the States, but it was huge here, and in the Commonwealth. It was even Ireland's most-visited site for a time.

Bebo, in New Zealand at least, felt like a transition network. MySpace, with it's hugely customisable profiles and persistent user-unfriendliness, was on the way out. Facebook, while huge in the United States, hadn't quite caught on with younger teens yet, deemed a little boring and blue. Bebo was a perfect midpoint - you could change up your theme (skin!) but only to a point, and it was much easier to use.

I, along with most of my year, spent far too much time on Bebo, cruising each other's pages to read wall posts and creating narcissistic quizzes for our friends to complete.

But that's all in the past.

Nobody uses Bebo in 2013. It isn't even possible now. Bebo petered out much faster than MySpace. In my high school, it went from a hive of social activity into a graveyard in weeks. Facebook was suddenly the social network of choice, and the notoriously fickle youth audience left Bebo in droves.

Why did Bebo die so suddenly? A few things seem to have conspired against it. America Online (AOL) bought Bebo for US$850 million in 2008, giving Michael and Xochi Birch, the husband-wife team who invented the site a combined $550m. Many argue that AOL didn't take great care of Bebo. An employee told The Guardian that Bebo had only 40 engineers at one point, barely enough to keep the site online, let alone keep up with the relentless innovations Facebook's 2000 engineers were pursuing at the time. An even simpler answer is also apparent - everyone who used Bebo grew up.

Bebo was always most popular with younger teens. The younger teens who were obsessed with Bebo - people my age - grew up and moved to Facebook, and the newer generation of tweens didn't replace us.

This newer generation was much more mobile than mine, and thus into Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, and Tumblr.

While Facebook rapidly became mobile-friendly, eventually buying Instagram, Bebo failed to innovate at all.

All is not necessarily lost. The Birch couple - who created Bebo and made $550m from the sale - bought Bebo back from AOL recently, for the teensy sum of $1m.

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Bebo.com is down for maintenance/relaunch, which is great news for those of us with 21st-birthday slide shows coming up. Michael Birch has recorded a witty and self-deprecatory video for the now-dormant site, lamenting the more phallic nature of Bebo's history and promising an exciting new experience when the site relaunches. All of your photos and blog posts will still be there.

Social networks aren't exactly famed for second acts - when was the last time you used MySpace? - but it'll still be fun to see them try.

- Sunday News

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