Ex-Channel 4 boss bets on resurrection for Bebo

Bebo, once the UK's most popular social networking site, is relaunching with a new design and extra features that it hopes will reverse the decline in user numbers.

The website's US owner, which bought it from AOL last year, has tapped new advisers and new investors, including the former BBC One and Channel 4 controller Michael Jackson, to help prepare the revamp. Mr Jackson took a stake believed to be between 5 and 10 per cent.

The new look is being promoted with more than a few sideswipes at Facebook, the social networking leader, which eclipsed Bebo in the UK three years ago. Where Facebook users can show their approval of friends' comments and photos by pressing a "like" button, Bebo's users will have other options, from "cool" to "sorry" to "OMG".

Adam Levin, the California entrepreneur who bought Bebo last June, said: "Like is a very generic word. It may do the job for some sites, but we have a younger user base that expresses themselves with much more descriptive words."

Bebo will also soon start giving users more control over which of their friends appear most often in the "news feed", so they can "dial down" friends whose posts are too frequent or too boring – addressing one of the constant complaints about Facebook.

However, Mr Levin says Bebo no longer sees Facebook as a direct rival, and is making it easier to integrate content from Facebook, Twitter and other services into Bebo.

Bebo's user numbers have collapsed from their peak in 2007, when Facebook was just beginning to make inroads in the UK and MySpace was the biggest social networking site in the world. AOL paid $850m for Bebo in 2008, hoping it could match its UK success in the US market. That did not happen and Bebo user numbers went into reverse in the UK, too. AOL sold it for less than $10m.

Despite an uptick after the sale last year, Bebo has continued to lose users in the UK. According to ComScore, monthly visitor numbers fell from 5.7 million in January 2010 to 1.9 million a year later.

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