social network rejects


It’s been a while since i last logged in to bebo. Months perhaps. And when i do login, it’s only to create blog posts like this one about how bebo has gone from being the new, cool kid on the block to the old, uncool reject….

Not so cool now, are we?

I noticed for the first time in what seems like years they have no sponsored background on the homepage. A sign of the times. They probably can’t attract advertisers… instead, they have plenty of adsense ads on the site.

Bebo could have done what facebook did and introduce their own targetted ad system, but they didn’t have the vision. They partnered with yahoo ads and then adsense which i feel contributed a great deal to their demise. It was seen as a quick and easy way to make money but all it did was clutter an already cluttered social network and cheapen the whole bebo experience.

$840m + up in smoke

Bebo was bought by AOL in 2008 for $850m and sold earlier this year for less than $10m. Just a slight $840m loss there then… when doing some ‘research’ for this post (we all know i just googled ‘bebo sale’ and clicked on a few links) i found some very interesting comments on a blog shortly after the sale;

“Hey, has anybody told the corporate world that there was this thing, a lon, long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away called the “dotcom boom” which subsequently led to the “dotcom bust” and all the poor little shareholders were left holding their valueless securities, crying in their spilled milk.”

“Conventional marketing wisdom states that as we grow older we become more conservative and less likely to change habits. So of course new sites aren’t targeting someone turning 40. It’s much easier attracting someone who is 20…. Of course the catch is that the 20 year old might be quicker at switching away from the site.”

These are just regular joe soaps like you and i. But they seen it all coming. In 2008, i didn’t think buying bebo was a smart move, but about two years earlier i would have said yes. It had much more momentum and a much stronger community spirit. That’s what social networks are all about… that’s how you can tell whether they’re valuable or not.

I, like most people my age don’t give a damn about facebook or twitter as businesses. I’m only loyal to them above their competition because they offer the best technology experience out there, for free. So keep doing that and i’ll continue to keep using the service. Plaster ads all over the place or try to drastically overhaul the community and you’re toast unless that vast majority of the community demand it.

Digg is another big gun that’s in trouble and heading in the wrong direction… they’ve tried to jazz things up a bit and overhaul the site but it’s backfired big time. I started to turn on digg when they introduced sponsored diggs. They were just confusing and blended in too much with regular content. Did i tell digg? No. I just stopped visiting the site less and less and disabled all alerts.

The problem with communities

The problem with social networks or any sort of online community is that they don’t like being controlled. 5% of users might use some feature which eats up a lot of pixels and would be easier to ditch or hide… but ditch that and you anger 5% of the community. You don’t know what connections those guys have, if they’re power users they could cripple the entire community by moving elsewhere. Wherever they go, the rest follow, eventually. So knowing who your power users are and knowing what they don’t need or want is probably the best way to go about changing stuff.

Bebo didn’t talk to users and went belly up. They just smacked ads all over the site, overnight and said nothing. The digg community are very anti-change and just want digg left alone… (anyone who’s been on digg for a few years can see that) so it’s a mistake trying to constantly change it. Twitter & Facebook are immune to a mass exodus at the minute because they don’t have any serious competition, yet.

Facebook is also becoming too big for power users to leave… leave facebook and you cut yourself off from most of your contacts and friends online. So Facebook is a different ball game, unprecedented… rather than calling it ‘a’ community, we’re almost referring to it as ‘the’ community so it’s not gonna get chopped down overnight, it’ll be a slower process.

But all communities are vulnerable and it’s important to remember that. No online community is bullet proof.

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