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August 31, 2006

What's the Hottest Place to Hangout: Facebook, Bebo, or Friendster

posted by MR WAVETHEORY at 8/31/2006 03:11:00 PM
Social networking has been on fire lately. Friendster, which was thought to be left for dead, just raised $10 million. FaceBook is thinking that it is worth $2 billion. And even a company in the UK has raised money to attack this huge growing market - I'm being sarcastic.
We all know about MySpace. So the interesting question is, among the second tier sites, who's winning in social networking? I decided to run a trend analysis among Facebook, Bebo, and Friendster. The results as you see are below:
From the looks of it, the winner is non other than Bebo. Several conclusions can be drawn from the chart:

1) FaceBook has seen a pretty dramatic slowdown in traffic in the last 3 months in terms of traffic. This is probably to be expected since FaceBook serves the college going crowd. However, it is not comforting if you were an investor since the valuation of the last round was north of $500 million. Geographically, FaceBook is leading in the US.

2) Friendster has is trailing both FaceBook and Bebo. Friendster had a spike in traffic earlier in the year. This appears to be shortlived. I believe Friendster is being used by non US users so the query volume may not be representative. Friendster is leading in Canada.

3) Bebo is really knocking the cover off the ball. It has overtaken both FaceBook and Friendster in terms of traffic in the first half of this year, and that's pretty amazing. It is the clear leader in the UK.

Who is Bebo?
Bebo was founded by Michael Birch - also the founder of BirthdayAlarm. It is a cross between FaceBook and MySpace. The demographic is organized like FaceBook - but younger skewing than FaceBook. The site claims to have 25 million users and 3 billion monthly page views vs 75 million users at MySpace at 30 billion page views. Traffic has been blazing. The site literally came out of nowhere a year and a half ago. What's incredible is that the company rejected a $500 million offer from BT just a year into its founding.

How did it grow so fast?

I think a good part of the growth is due to the fact that Michael converted a large number of his BirthdayAlarm (auspiciously launched on 9-11) users to Bebo. It's a great strategy.What is Bebo doing now?
I think Bebo is trying to figure that out. Originally, it was a junior Facebook, a place where kids picked out the schools they went to and signed up with an email address. However, the gated community approach doesn't seem to have worked, so the last remnants of its FaceBook approach is simply a College and a Schools today. Today, it is more like MySpace. Anyone can sign up - with any email address. There is no real authentication and verification of identity - with lots of fake profiles - taking a page straight out of MySpace's playbook. More recently, it looks like they are trying to be more like YouTube now, and the front page is filled with viral videos. What is Bebo's strategy? I really don't know, but apparently it was good enough for investors to put in a nice chunk of change. They've got $15 million to figure out what to do.

Where to next after Web 2.0?
I have wondered recently what Web 3.0 will look like. After everyone has been socially networked and Ajaxified, what will be the next big hit? What will happen to the Web 2.0 companies?

A recent quote I read by Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion comes to mind:

When it comes to social media, there's one -- and only one -- thing you can bank on: No one puts down roots.

Steve warns that the top media properties of 2001 like Homestead.com, FortuneCity, and MadBlast, are nowhere to be found! In the case of Homestead, Google is gunning at its SMB turf with Google Apps for Your Domain. In the case of FortuneCity, I don't think anyone even remembers what it is. Never mind Madblast!

So, will we look back 5 years from now at FaceBook, Bebo, and Friendster and see what we see looking back 5 years from today? I can only venture to guess that history repeats itself more often that you would think! To the hearty, adventurous VCs who have money in these deals, I wish you the best of luck! Lightning is known to strike twice in the same place - particularly in Silicon Valley.

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