December 11, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO -- America Online on Wednesday rolled out a new version of its social-networking website Bebo in a bid to make it a central gathering point for people's online lives.
Time Warner-owned AOL bought Bebo earlier this year for $850 million and it remains a distant third in a global social networking realm dominated by Facebook and News Corp's MySpace.
Changes at Bebo include the addition of a "social inbox" that continuously gathers updates from people's Web-based email accounts as well as YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Delicious and other online communities they join.
"People want the ability to stay in-touch with their contacts in real-time wherever their friends may be across the Web," said AOL People Networks president Joanna Shields.
"By opening up our network to the most popular sites and allowing our users to pull in the best of the Internet, we are creating an environment where everyone can easily and effectively manage their online lives, no matter where the individual pieces reside."
Facebook is taking its own steps toward online social networking convergence with Facebook Connect, which allows bridges to be built between profile pages and outside websites.
Bebo used technology from freshly-acquired Socialthing to give users easy access to pictures, status changes and other data routinely shared at communally-oriented websites.
Bebo provides continuously updated local news feeds and lets users check Gmail, Yahoo mail or AOL mail without leaving the social networking website.
A "recommendation engine" delivers video, music, and games tailored to Bebo users' tastes.
"We've been able to create a more relevant and open social experience," said AOL People Networks senior vice president David Liu.
"Our users can keep in touch with friends and family across the Web and around the world from one single destination while at the same time continuing to explore the vast Bebo community."
Bebo boasts a worldwide membership of approximately 49 million people, with comScore statistics indicating a typical user spends 25 minutes daily at the website.