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Bebo is back – should we take it seriously?

Posted on February 5, 2021

 

Those who feel nostalgia for a simpler and more innocent form of social media may be interested to hear that popular ‘00s site Bebo is set to relaunch this month, but is it ready to rival today’s big names like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?

The site, which at one point overtook Myspace to become the UK’s most popular social media platform, suffered a decline after being bought by AOL in 2008 in what the BBC later described as “one of the worst deals ever made in the dotcom era”. The deal cost $850m, equivalent to £417m at the time, but just two years later, AOL had sold the site on to hedge fund firm Criterion.

Bebo’s founders, husband and wife Michael and Xochi Birch, bought the site back for a mere $1m in 2013. Six years later, it was acquired by Amazon’s Twitch Interactive subsidiary for $25m.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC from his home in the British Virgin Islands, Michael Birch explained that he started working on Bebo again last year, mainly as a way to keep himself occupied during lockdown, and talks of “live social interaction” being the site’s unique selling point, as opposed to the newsfeeds we are now more used to on social media.

Can Bebo burst the Facebook bubble?

News of Bebo’s imminent return may have raised a smile among those with fond memories of social media’s infancy, but is it realistic to think it can challenge the big boys of the 2020s?

It’s worth remembering that this isn’t the first time there has been the suggestion of a Bebo “comeback”. In 2014, the year following the Birches’ bargain $1m repurchase, there was talk of Bebo returning as a modernised version of its former self with more focus on casual conversation, but its path began to move towards its instant messaging platform Bebo Blab and e-sports streaming, the latter of which prompting the acquisition from Twitch.

Still, the Birches have done remarkably well out of the Bebo brand over the years, and if nothing else have shown themselves to have a knack for timing a deal. The idea of knowing when friends are online and interacting with them live is a little different, and there may be a niche the site can find among those yearning for a more innocent, friend-focused social media experience in these post-Cambridge Analytica times. However, even Birch himself admits that although the idea of Bebo returning to its former glories is “a fun thing to contemplate”, he does not realistically believe it will happen.

With the site’s emphasis set to be on friendship, it seems unlikely we will be offering Bebo advertising campaigns any time in the near future, but it is important to keep an eye on how social media is changing and what its users are looking for. At Engage Web, we can provide you with high-quality, engaging content ideal for sharing on any social media site.

John Murray
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