One thing you can say about Bebo’s (ahem) new owner, and it has to be said original founder Michael Birch is that he is a very smart man. Buying back the company you offloaded to AOL for $850 million for just $1 million is a work of genius. What would make Birch even more of a legend though would be turn Bebo into a network that actually became something new and exciting.
New Bebo has started well – the video where he introduces the new service is both clever and funny. Very soon though it will be time to lay the network’s cards on the virtual table. And I do wonder if Birch and his team have picked exactly the right time to relaunch Bebo.
They basically have two options. Try to get all those people with accounts to reignite them. Or go for a new young audience? If Bebo opts for the former it has a huge task. Those 14 year olds are now pushing 20 and probably very ensconced in Facebook and may have negative views about Bebo and what happened to it. Nevertheless Birch has hinted in an interview with the Standard that the new site will target its original users.
I do wonder though if Birch is missing a trick with not actually going for the youngsters. There appears to be a massive online hole for 13 year olds that Facebook isn’t going to fill. Here’s why I think there is an opportunity for Michael Birch, or anyone else for that matter.
1 13 year olds are up for grabs now - As Ruby Karp wrote so eloquently on Mashable yesterday as a 13 year old she is on Facebook but none of her friends are. Facebook is the network of older siblings, parents and (ulp) grandparents. Her pals are on Instagram, SnapChat and lots of other places, but not Facebook. Why would they want to share their embarrassing images with their parents?
2 Ask FM has become a sullied brand - As a concept its ‘ask a anonymous question’ is perfect for youngsters. However the bullying scandal that surrounds it has undermined it in this country at least. What might have been a very real emerging social network now looks like it has issues.
3 There’s a BlackBerry shaped hole too - A few years ago it was all about BBM. Your parents didn’t understand it and couldn’t access it. Not many young teens are keen on BlackBerry devices now. WhatsApp has partially filled that role, but if a network can offer instant messaging as part of as suite of facilities it could step into the breach.
4 It is all about mobile now - The Bebo team, or anyone else, can build a mobile first platform and that is not a luxury that has been afforded to existing networks.
5 Constrained media is an opportunity - The whole social networking world is being turned on its head by the idea of constrained media. The concept is that there are limits to how much content you can share whether that be 140 characters of Twitter, the 15 seconds of Instagram video or the thumbnail images of Dribbble. It seems that constrained media really does chime with the kids as it is easy to use and ideal for instant communication and there have to be ways that it can be reinvented too.
Well Michael Birch always has something up his sleeve – I can’t believe that he hasn’t got a killer app or two which he is just waiting to deliver.
We will just have to wait and see.