The Bebo effect

7 Oct 2010

Bebo co-founder Michael Birch, who sold the social network to AOL in 2008 for $850m, is back
with, a social networking site for political debate.

There was a time not so long ago in this country that all anyone under 25 could talk about was Bebo. Ireland boasted one of the highest per-capita penetrations for the social network globally and kids under 12 would try to lie about their age to be where their friends were.

It was the place to be for social kudos, to share photos, gossip and videos and be somebody. At its height in 2008, the social network even made Facebook, which dominates today’s social networking world, look square by comparison. But after its acquisition by AOL in 2008 for $850m, a move that made founders Michael Birch and his wife Xochi an estimated $595m profit, Bebo drifted into the online wilderness.

Earlier this year, AOL said it would sell or shut down Bebo because of plummeting traffic, and eventually sold it to venture capital firm Criterion Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum. It has been suggested that the sale raised less than $10m.

As I speak to Birch on a video call via Skype, he makes it clear that, in his view, AOL failed to make the most of Bebo, but with a new CEO in place he believes it can be rejuvenated. In the intervening years since the Bebo sale, Birch and his wife had another child, he underwent heart surgery, they travelled a lot and they both concentrated on existing profitable businesses.

His latest venture is uncannily suited to its time., after going into stealth mode in Ireland over the past month and now on global public beta, is a place where individuals can provoke political discussion, nominate leaders and vote on issues.

Read more of ‘The Bebo effect’ at Digital 21. – Digital 21 is a campaign to highlight the imperative of creating an action programme to secure the digital infrastructure and services upon which the success of our economy depends.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years