Business Technology

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Bebo is back! This time as messaging app Blab

Published 03/04/2014 | 14:37

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From left: Twitter's chairman Jack Dorsey; Bebo and Jolitics founder Michael Birch; Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom; YouTube co-founder and CEO Chad Hurley; and Divyank Turakhia, co-founder and president of Indian web giant Directi, in Dublin yesterday

The founder of Bebo is turning the pioneering social network into a messaging service less than a year after he bought it back for just $1m.

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Michael Birch sold Bebo to AOL for $850m in 2008, but was able to win it back for tiny fraction of that figure after users deserted it in favour of newer platforms like Facebook. By the time he got his hands on it, Bebo felt like a “ghost town”, Mr Birch said.

However, the British entrepreneur is now attempting to restore the company to its former glory by transforming it into a different sort of service altogether.

Blab, a messaging app that will allow people to send short videos to others, regardless of whether they have the app themselves.

The service, Blab, has already drawn comparisons with SnapChat, which allows people to send self-deleting photos, and WhatsApp, the instant messaging platform acquired by Facebook for $19bn.

“It’s kind of been proven that the sky’s the limit with [valuations for] relatively simple apps these days. The enormous valuation [for Bebo] is now looking quite modest compared with some other valuations. But we’re not doing this just to flip it,” Mr Birch told The Telegraph.

“We didn’t really know what we were going to do when we bought Bebo back, but we knew we weren’t just going to relaunch the site and make it prettier. We knew it would be radically different."

The result was even more radical a departure than they expected, but Mr Birch said he hoped Blab would be the first of a series of new apps, each focused on a specific task. “It is such a crowded marketplace but we have an advantage, because it is a Bebo relaunch.”

That is not the only feature that could make Blab stand out. In a crucial difference to WhatsApp and SnapChat, Blab users will be able to send messages to people regardless of whether they have the app themselves. The recipients will also be able to send a video in reply without using the app, although they will need to sign up to Blab if they want to start video conversations themselves.

“If you offer goodwill, and people enjoy the experience, then they are going to want to initiate new ones,” Mr Birch said.

“Everything has shifted to being much simpler than it used to be – Apple led the way on that – and we wanted to create something as simple as possible. The idea of recording a video and attaching it to something so you can send it just feels so cumbersome.”

The app is free to use and does not carry advertising, but he said he would work out the business model once it had built up a sizable following.

“We quite literally haven’t had a conversation [about that], but there will be a way to monetise it.”

The company has not taken any outside investment since Mr Birch regained control, and intends to remain that way as long as possible. “We are realistic that the ambitions for most companies is that they end up selling them, but we would prefer to have complete control over what we are doing [for as long as possible],” he said.

Telegraph.co.uk

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