Thursday, 8 April 2010

Bebo - AOL's Loss, But Who Will Gain?

We all remember AOL, don't we? Well, I do at the very least. I remember painfully slow dial-up connections, ICQ and AIM from back when I was a teenager. Oh, the fun I had with that, waiting an eternity to log in, hearing the familiar call from my mum downstairs.

"Nan's trying to call! Get off the internet!"

And then I moved to London, got broadband and never looked back, or used AOL services again. And it seems I'm not the only one - check this graph out (courtesy of Neoseeker.com)



That’s a pretty sharp decline isn’t it? And it coincided with the widespread proliferation of high-speed broadband. AOL was viewed as an Anachronism, and as it was merged with Time-Warner, a large, corporate one.

In 2008, in an attempt to reach out to a new audience and look for new avenues, AOL bought British social networking site Bebo for $850 million dollars. That’s a lot of wonga.

And what did that do with it? Well, nothing. No relaunch, no development, no integration into their other services (bar that lame duck AIM). As a result, the site has been left to stagnate, and trails Facebook’s 35 million active users (active being defined as updating your status every day) with 12 million active users, a large majority coming from Scotland, Ireland and the UK.

So, now AOL want to get rid of something that they paid close to a billion for, and have since spent nearly nothing on, yet still has 12 million active (mainly under 18) users.

In a memo sent to AOL staff yesterday, they stated:

"As we evaluate our portfolio of brands against our strategy, it is clear that social networking is a space with heavy competition, and where scale defines success. Bebo, unfortunately, is a business that has been declining and, as a result, would require significant investment in order to compete in the competitive social networking space. AOL is not in a position at this time to further fund and support Bebo in pursuing a turnaround in social networking."

The long and the short of this is that AOL rushed into the purchase of Bebo. It wasn’t fully aware of Bebo’s demographic, and once they realised that these kids were hard to sell to (as they don’t have their own money yet), they didn’t know what to do with it. So they pulled the plug financially.

This has been a long time coming, and is not necessarily a surpise, but talk of Bebo shutting down is pretty premature in my opinion. I know a lot of companies that would kill for an active userbase of 12million teenagers, and would know exactly what to do with it.

Disney?

Sony?

Nintendo?

The choices are limitless, and the rewards of purchasing this network could potentially be huge if somebody buys it with an open mind to ‘re-skin’ the brand as something to really appeal to teens, something AOL have failed dismally in doing.

Watch this space.



Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Unvarnished: Cyber-Bullying Made Simple?


Workplace grudges. Whilst I would like to say that we all have them, the vast majority of us do not. I genuinely like (or at the very least respect) every person I have worked with on a professional level, and I would have no problem with saying that. After all, what's the point in harbouring bitterness, or even a grudge? Somebody once said that bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Everybody loses.

But in the online world, a world that frees us from our traditional roles and responsibilities to be polite, respectful and courteous, we are free to say and do as we please (within reason). Whilst on certain levels this may be A Good Thing, a new site that has been launched could bring some of the carnage, flaming and trolling of the internet into our home and professional lives.

The sites name is Unvarnished, and it ended it's Beta testing last week. Launched by veterans of sites such as LinkedIn and eBay, the site allows users to rate their co-workers and bosses positively or negatively. Comments cannot be deleted from an account, but if the person in question does find one of these comments, they can take ownership of their profile and respond to the criticism. reviews are rounded up, and you are given a rating out of five, not unlike a video on Youtube, a track on iTunes or a DVD on Amazon. And it's really easy to do, as you can use Facebook Connect to sign in, adding that all important social media element to the whole, malignant process.

I'm sure when bosses or HR departments hear about this, they are going to go crazy. Finally, a reputation-gauge that goes beyond a person's CV, or their references! AMAZING! This is what people really think of them, so this is how good or bad they really are at their job! BRILLIANT, RIGHT?

Wrong.

With the rise in cyber-bullying amongst school children, and the water-cooler toxic culture of the workplace, is giving people the option to anonymously slate their peers or their boss really such a good idea? Whilst I understand the need to at least have a conversation about work practises, surely they should be had face-to-face? And when does a work gripe become a personal grudge? Since when has it been justified to sit there, glass of wine in hand, laptop on your knees, happily writing anonymous braodsides about somebody at work you just don't like. Wrong hair? Funny smell? Doesn't take part in your shitty chain emails? Then why not post a comment saying they failed to deliver on a major project. After all, it's totally anonymous. Head to head for a promotion with a colleague? Then just give them a bad write up on Unvarnished, then hope your bosses read it. Simples.

In the music industry, there is a lot of back-biting, back-stabbing and office politics. In short, it's pretty much the same as any other industry. I have worked for some cracking people in my time (my current employers are an example of this - I really enjoy working at Ministry of Sound), but I have also worked at some terrible places, where workplace bullying is the norm, and certainly places where this form of passive-aggressive bullying would be welcomed with open arms.

Who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys? That's not for me to say, it's not my place to slate or berate people online. It's immature. But I personally hope that everybody who posts a bad review about somebody on unvarnished feels a little bit dirty for doing so.

I'm very concerned that a site like this. Whilst giving you a certain degree of control over the conversations that are being had about you online, you cannot control your own profile, or delete comments that aren't true.

And although it may never take off in the UK, there are still plenty of reasons for concern for people the world over.

Unvarnished claim to be opening up a space for candid discussion. Well, let me put this challenge to you. If you are not essentially a front for cyber-bullying, then allow people to control what is said about them on their own profiles, and do not allow anonymous posting. If you care about the truth as much as you say you do, then honesty should not be an option, it should be mandatory.

I stand by everything I say, and I would expect others to do the same.

Unvarnished: Truth in Reputation?

Cyber-bullying for grown-ups more like.

For help and information about workplace bullying, visit read this Advicenow guide, and contact ACAS if you feel you are a victim. Nobody needs to, or deserves to be in this day and age.

PS: I'm not linking to the site, as I refuse to have anything to do with it!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Social Networking - It's The First Quarter Roundup!

Guess what? I'm on annual leave next week, and I'm looking forward to every moment of it. The first quarter of the year is over, and already there have been a lot of developments in the social media sphere - I've written down a few of my thoughts on the biggest ones below

Foursquare: After a few irritating, stalled weeks on my Blackberry, is now working like a dream. Initially, like with most good ideas, I wondered what the fuss was about - but then again I guess more than a few of the 400 million Facebook users thought the same thing about social networking at first. It recently beat the 500k checkins a day mark, and looks set to go stellar in the next few months.

The big challenge for me to get my head around is how it's going to translate into a successful tool for the music industry. I've already sent it around my office, and all of the noises have been pretty positive. We're working on a few ideas at the moment. I'm not telling you them yet though. Mwah-ha-ha.

iPad: I've heard a few tastemakers and important people online wondering firstly, what is it going to replace, and secondly, contrary to Apple's claims, is it really any better than a cheap laptop/netbook.

My two penneth on the matter is that I think that it will be pretty successful, and that, as always, Apple will find a way for it to become indispensable to us. It will be harder for them this time around though - the iPod was a clear update on the previous clunky, truely dreadful portable MP3 players, and, well, the iPhone is simply an immense piece of kit. The appeal of the iPad is harder to distinguish, but we will see. The proof of the iPudding is in the, well, you get the idea. I won't be rushing out to get one just yet though.

Facebook: Facebook recently passed their 400 million users marker, and it is now the default location for people on the internet. With this in mind, brands have been greedily circling, waiting to pounce on your information to dessimate around their company, ensuring that sales people will start flooding your FB inbox with Viagra emails. Either that, or, well, they just want to inform you of special offers and incentives that you might not have otherwise heard of. Or they want to improve their customer service, or gauge feedback on products and services. Either way, Facebook's up-and-coming new privacy settings, which I would stake good money on giving less privacy to users and more leeway for brands to access fan information.

I think that more access for brands is a good thing. Why? Well, firstly, everbody has a right to privacy, but if you really value your personal information, don't share it in a semi-public forum. There is no shame in being ex-directory on the biggest phonebook in the planet, but please don't complain if you have the option to abstain.

Secondly, more access for brands will enable the good ones, the ones that care and understand the networks, to find out what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. And that could ultimately be good for everybody's pocket.

Facebook's eagerness to please brands and their core users alike is in stark contrast to Twitter, who have kind of fallen by the wayside. Where are these premium services they have been promising for so long? A no-show on these at SXSWi was very disappointing, although @anywhere is a nice feature.

So, all in all, the first quarter of the online year has shaped up pretty nicely, and a lot of services are poised pretty nicely, like a ball ready to be volleyed into the back of the net. So we'll see what happens in the coming months. What it holds for the music industry? Well, we'll see.

Wish me luck on my week off!

And here's a couple great track to send you off into the Easter break - both from Professor Green. Enjoy!