In December, we covered Bebo's new Social Inbox, which gathers social updates from your friends on other services and shows them on your Bebo home page. There's also a new feature, Lifestream, which will collect data from the Bebo user's external sites and put them all into one data stream that any Bebo friend can see. This feature is reminiscent of the social network aggregation function in FriendFeed.
AOL on Monday is announcing several more enhancements to the Bebo service, although not all of them will be available to users immediately.
Lifestory is glitziest of the new features. It gathers your Bebo photos and events, and puts them into a album player that sorts them into chronological groups. Basically, it makes a fancy widget out of your life.
Bebo is getting somewhat granular privacy controls, with a feature called the Social Slider. It allows you to tag every element on the social network as appropriate for friends, family, or your "inner circle." This is a welcome, if not unique feature, although calling a control with three levels a "slider" is a bit misleading. The feature can also be used to filter incoming messages to just people close to you.
Bebo's native instant messenger and AOL's AIM are getting integrated, so Bebo users will be able to communicate with AIM users. AIM users will also soon get Bebo profiles, which area bit richer. The company is also promising a new instant messenger experience. A release sent to journalists says, "In Q2 we will take this one step further, providing AIM users with a radically new experience for real-time communication with everyone and everything they care about." Perhaps the company is eyeing to compete with Meebo -- or maybe there's an acquisition we'll hear about (but to be clear, that's just speculation on my part).
The service is also getting a feature called Stories. It sounds like it will be a form of group blogging, oriented around events. But AOL is not saying much more about it, aside from promising a March release for the feature.
AOL execs clearly want to differentiate the Bebo network from other social nets, especially Facebook and MySpace. However, the protests sound strained. Bebo is a social network. It has different features, but it competes with the big networks (Bebo claims 22 million users versus Facebook's reported 175 million). AOL does own several interesting social data companies, though. In addition to Bebo and Socialthing, the company also owns the Q&A service Yedda, and it acquired the widget company Goowy Media. It has all the pieces and parts to make innovative and interesting social applications. All it really needs is users.