The unlikely return of Bebo

February 2021 sees Bebo — the social media website co-founded at the beginning of 2005 by Michael Birch — return. But why?

“Sooner or later, everything old is new again,” goes the noted Stephen King line. And, in 2021, a year in which a mauling public health crisis continues to usher us towards taking shelter in the familiar and comforting, Bebo, the social media phenomenon which drew cult devotion during the noughties, is back, according to an announcement on its website.

An acronym for “blog early, blog often,” Bebo’s pulling power – which drew over 80 million unique users — hinged on its quizzes, profile pages that allowed users to upload photos, videos and music, and whimsical features, such as choosing your ‘Top 16’ friends. It was the most used social network in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and had, for a single month, supplanted Google as Britain’s most visited site.

The current homepage reads “Bebo is coming back in February 2021 as a brand new social network,” and a quick scroll on Twitter will indicate that the verve for its renaissance is bubbling. However, those looking to access its password-protected private beta will need to be invited to do so. It also states, “All the old accounts are long gone”, and that Donald Trump is already banned from using the website, once it relaunches, mirroring the approach that Facebook and Twitter have taken towards the former president.

The unlikely return of Bebo

Co-founded at the beginning of 2005 by Michael Birch and Xochi, his wife — both serial startup launchers, who have also previously debuted birthdayalarmclock.com, an e-card site, and ringo.com, an early social-media hub — Bebo once vied with MySpace for the hearts and minds of teens and young adults, before the turn of the new decade saw mass migration to Facebook. “I could see the juggernaut coming,” Birch said in 2019, recalling the period in which the soon-to-be king Mark Zuckerberg was on the offence.

Birch revealed that, in 2008, he and a 23-year-old Zuckerberg, had conversed for two hours, before the Facebook co-founder made a verbal, stock-only offer for Bebo. Balderton Capital, the VC behind Bebo at the time, thought that Facebook’s then valuation of $15bn was pie in the sky, and the offer was rejected. Instead, a deal was struck with AOL, only a few months before the financial crisis, with negotiations sealed at $850m.

The Birches invested some of their payout into the likes of image-sharing service Pinterest and meditation and sleep app Calm, before eventually buying back Bebo’s assets for $1m, saving it from bankruptcy, and attempting, several times, to repurpose it. In 2019, the business, which at that point existed as an e-sports streaming platform, was sold to Amazon subsidiary Twitch, for $25m. The Bebo website was then taken offline, but Birch kept hold of the rights to the brand – and has now decided to bring the band back together.

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