Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Is the game up for Babelgum and the video minnows?

Amid all the hype about Facebook recently it's worth a moment's thought about Bebo. According to Comscore the relatively under-exposed social networking giant still has a good few 10s of millions more users in the UK than either Facebook, or yesterday's champion Myspace.

Yet thinking about it I realised that not only did I not have an active Bebo account that I could remember, but neither did any of my friends.

Yet, Bebo is huge, and huge in a way that I suspect is ultimately more resilient than Facebook. I have a theory that Facebook for many is an online game, not about interacting online, or widening a social circle - more about collecting faces that you have known and sticking them like cards in an online album, to prove just how well connected you are. Certainly not true for all Facebook users of course, but I suspect for most of those caught up in the big wave that's jumped on board it is the case. In this you can see echoes of Friends Reunited - the mass wave, followed by the "OK, we're all here, now what?" question.

The answer to that question for Friends Re-united of course was "go do something else less boring instead", and I suspect Facebook may see this too. Not that there isn't a viable business model left behind, more that the mega-numbers, and infinite "facebook platform" possibilities bandied around currently may turn out to be cloud illusions before long. Rather like the college yearbooks it's based on, fun to turn to occasionally but ultimately stuck in the bottom drawer for most of the year.
Bebo on the other hand, and Faceparty and Myspace for that matter, seems to have its demographic roots in an audience that uses the web in a far less ephemeral way, a generation that is growing up entwined with online usage, rather than bolting it on to an existing social scene. The addition of video to Bebo seems a natural extension to this, and as well as boosting the stakes in the social networking game, it's likely that this will hoover a lot of traffic away from some of the fledgling video propositions. Babelgum, Joost and the like now look to be playing in a crowded space - with no users. Admittedly they may have a pile of cash, but it's a molehill compared to the potential raises of the social networking big-guns.

Where to next for them? I'd hazard a guess at early exits, increased specialisation, and rapid consolidation in the middle of next year for those left going it alone.

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