Exclusive look at Bebo

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Co-founder of Bebo, Michael Birch.
Image: Auren Hoffman.
Bebo logo.
Image: Bebo.

Wikinews spoke to the Global Communications Director at Bebo to have a look at the popular social networking site. Sarah Gavin spoke via email to Wikinews' Gabriel Pollard exclusively.

Bebo - its full name being Blog Early Blog Often - started off life with its name being adopted from a suggestion a journalist made, as well as the memorable nature of the name. Ms Gavin said, "The reality is that the name was chosen for more practical reasons… it was memorable, translated well and most importantly it was available."

Founded in 2005 by husband and wife team, Michael Birch and Xochi Birch, Bebo was an online community for Internet users to talk to one another online, write blog posts and generally post pictures. Now in 2008, "Bebo allows users to find and communicate with friends as well as discovering, experiencing and sharing professional and user-generated content including video, music, books and other forms of entertainment," Ms Gavin said. 2005 was the year when at least another two social networking sites entered the market with Friendster and Ringo.com, which was set up by the same people who created Bebo. Ringo was later sold on to Monster.com.

Not only does Bebo facilitate the aforementioned activities on it's site, but also has access to professional content produced by broadcasters, such as TVNZ in New Zealand, and producers. This is done through its Open Media platform which claims to have over 400 media partners signed up.

Ms Gavin said, "Bebo offers many of the same features found on other sites, but unlike most social networks that limit their scope to communications and utility platforms, Bebo has opened its doors to all media companies, bringing the richness of the media world to its fast-growing community of users."

All of a sudden – and seemingly out of nowhere – the individual understands the power the web, and what opportunities instant, widespread communication, affords them. Everyone can create and shape the message.

—Sarah Gavin

Bebo even has its own television series it hosts on its website. KateModern, produced by those who made the popular Lonelygirl15 web-series, is a series exclusive to the Internet and was commissioned by Bebo in April, 2007. Bebo boasts that KateModern is the most popular television show on the Internet and saw it attain over 35 million views in the first season alone.

In early December 2007, Bebo announced its Open Application Platform, compatible with Facebook's F8 and Google's OpenSocial platforms. This new platform opens up its API so developers such as NBC Universal and Last.fm can build applications for use on Bebo. 1,300 applications have already been made for Bebo.

With over 40 million members internationally, Bebo has become the only "global Social Media Network" in existence today. Each month its demographic users aged between 16 and 24-years of age inclusive spend a combined total of 2.14 billion minutes a month surfing the highly popular site; or 40 minutes a day per user. The majority of its membership are from English-speaking nations such as United States, Australia and New Zealand where it experiences high popularity.

In the United Kingdom alone, Bebo has more than 11.4 million users, with 1.3 million located just in Ireland; 80% of Irish members are over 18-years-old. Ms Gavin spoke further on the popularity experienced in the world, "It is the number one social networking site in New Zealand, the number two site in Australia, and the number three site in the US and Canada."

Bebo experiences a gender balance with a virtual "50:50" split between female and male users "in each territory".

There is also a local version catered for the Polish community as well as there being plans to migrate into a local French and Spanish site.

Bebo also experiences higher usage than rival social networking site, MySpace, and video sharing website, YouTube, combined. "Bebo users are the most engaged and view an average of 92 pages per usage day," Ms Gavin said.

Ms Gavin said, "Only 10 months after its inception, Bebo was voted Best Social Networking Web Site by more than 300,000 voters in the annual People's Voice awards, in May 2006. Bebo won the People's Choice award in the Social Networking category at the 2006 Webby awards and was named as the number one search term in the Year-End Google Zeitgeist 2006."

We are shocked and saddened by the recent tragic events in Wales.

—Sarah Gavin

Recently it has emerged that youth in Wales have been committing suicide to gain attention, such as having a memorial page on the networking site. In response Bebo have set up their own service called "Be Well" to help make Bebo a "safe and secure environment." Ms Gavin said, "We are actively working with mental health and social care organisations – including Samaritans – to provide support and advice for our members.

Bebo Safety logo.
Image: Bebo.

"Bebo recognizes the potential dangers of online and takes proactive measures to promote safe use of its network. Bebo works in collaboration with law enforcement agencies from across the globe... [and] features a 'report abuse' button on every page."

The "Be Well" service has recently expanded its offerings to the Australian and New Zealand markets too.

When asked to comment on any possible offers to buy Bebo by such companies as Google, Ms Gavin said that it was against policy to comment on "rumour and speculation". However, after the interview, it was revealed that Time Warner's AOL Internet division is set to buy up Bebo for US$850 million.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.