Jim Carroll

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Bringing Bebo back

Michael Birch is now the proud owner again of the once popular social media site, so what can he do with it?

Wed, Jul 3, 2013, 09:15

   

Michael Birch must be fierce fond of his social media creation. Like that fellow in Limerick who recently repurchased the land he sold at the height of the last Irish property boom, Birch has spent $1 million dollars buying Bebo back from Criterion Capital Partners. Then again, what’s a million dollars to a man who sold the site for $850 million to AOL back in 2008?

What Birch plans to do with Bebo is unclear. He tweeted yesterday saying it will be fun to try to re-invent it so we can guess he’s not going to kick back in his gaff laughing his head off at what he’s just done. In case you haven’t looked in some time, the site still exists (“Bebo provides an open, engaging, and fun environment that empowers a new generation to discover, connect and express themselves”) and still has that logo which looks not unlike the one used by Beats By Dre (maybe Bebo will sue? Hey, there’s a business plan).

The site had 40 million monthly users at its peak, but it’s a long time since it has seen such numbers. Its user base grew up, left school, signed up for Facebook, gave up on Facebook and moved to Twitter. Meanwhile, you have sites like Ask.fm mopping up younger users. Bebo is now a relic of a bygone age, though you can be sure there are many twentysomethings wondering what happened to those silly photos they posted of themselves on the site a few years ago.

So can Birch bring Bebo back? As we’ve seen with the Justin Timberlake-powered MySpace re-up, reviving any once mighty tech figurehead is not easy. Technology rarely looks back with anything other than nostalogia. It’s all about what comes next or how the product will change and iterate to keep investors and users happy. What’s launched today must be refreshed within months to keep people humming. Technology is not about going back to something which worked a couple of years ago and trying to relaunch it. With the exception of Steve Jobs and Apple, it’s hard to think of any other tech product, company or site who managed to go back and relight the flame with any success.

Sites like Bebo have, to date, been very much of their time and that time is always finite. While it’s clear that many people are deserting Facebook (or never signed up in the first place), you can also sense growing impatience and boredom amongst fickle users with Twitter. The same thing will no doubt happen with Snapchat in time. The thought of going back to a site which was ever only really popular with younger users in the first place, like a slightly older Club Penguin, doesn’t strike you as a winner, though retooling the site just for that audience may have some merit. Over to Birch, then, for the next move.

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