Even though it was released after Facebook in 2005, social networking site Bebo.com enjoyed massive popularity and user traffic throughout 2005-2008, with 40 million users in 2008, at which time AOL acquired it for $850 million.

Original Features

The site has a variety of different features, including a “Lifestream” where users can see posted content from their friends; a Chat feature that lets users to talk to one another instantly; groups to share interests; and even an Authors section, where authors can share content from their books or writing to solicit reviews by other site members. The site generates its revenue from banner advertising.

Buyer’s Remorse

Since its acquisition by AOL, quite a few things have changed for Bebo. When Facebook eventually opened up registration to anyone with an email address, users began leaving MySpace and Bebo in favor of Facebook instead. In part as a result of this exodus, the BBC called the $850 million acquisition one of the worst dot-com deals of all time, categorizing it as a significant business mistake by AOL.

According TechCrunch, this month founder Michael Birch announced that he and his wife Xochi had bought back the site during its bankruptcy auction for just $1 million — over 99% less than what they sold it for just five years earlier. MediaWeek states that AOL had sold the site to Criterion Capital for around $10 million in 2010, before the firm recently declared itself bankrupt.

Back from the Brink

Michael Birch mentioned on Twitter that they plan to reinvent the site, hopefully bringing it back up from almost total failure. Michael currently runs and finances Monkey Inferno, a start-up incubator based out of San Francisco, through which the relaunch will be accomplished.

While it is unknown exactly how the site will be re-branded and relaunched, TechCrunch reports that the Monkey Inferno team still wants Bebo to be a site and community that connects people, something that the site had set out to do back in 2005.

The Road to Reinvention

No matter how the Monkey Inferno team decides to relaunch, the fact remains that they will be forever in Facebook’s shadow. To reclaim some of its own success, Bebo will need to have a fresh design, bring something unique to the table (perhaps by focusing on photos and video instead of building profile-based communities like Facebook and Twitter), and make sure everything runs smoothly right from launch. But Reinvention is a long process, so it may be years before the public gets a glimpse at what the new Bebo website has to offer.

Image courtesy of Flickr


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