July 27, 2006 10:24 AM PDT
Will the cool kids go gaga for Bebo?
Social-networking site Bebo announced in early July that its 25 million members would have unlimited uploading and sharing of music files to its Bebo Bands site. In the last two weeks, more than 25,000 bands and tens of thousands of groupies decided to call Bebo Bands their home, according to Bebo.
Bebo seeks to distinguish its music networking features by becoming a democratic music site that allows members to play DJ, promoter and groupie.
"The big differential from sites like MySpace is in the way we introduce the concept of playlists and will introduce the Bebo DJ," Bebo founder Michael Birch said.
MySpace, the leading social-networking Web site, is the obvious competitor from which Bebo would hope to take market share.
"Everyone has a friend who's great at finding and recommending music. Other users can copy their playlists to their own home page, instead of having to look through thousands of bands if they don't want to," Birch said.
Bands on Bebo can upload an unlimited amount of music tracks, albums, videos and photos. They are also given space to blog, receive posts from groupies, create personal Bebo home pages for each band member, and link to other sites about themselves.
Users can make and save an unlimited number of playlists and share those playlists with other members. For a personal touch, users can also select a photo to go with each playlist. The songs and playlists remain available for members to listen to when they sign in to Bebo.
Member playlists are also ranked by how many times they are copied, enabling members to become official DJs of the Bebo community. Each song also lists the number of playlists that it has been added to, which is how songs get ranked.
While the page layout remains basically the same from band to band for easy navigation, the option to apply unique skins (which can also be shared) prevents the disappointing cookie-cutter look of other social-networking Web sites.
There are some really original and outrageous skin designs. Much like New York City's famed Hotel Chelsea, the site seems to have attracted more Sid and Nancy types than American Idol lovers. Music categories include crunk, thrash, trance and post hard core, along with the usual pop and alternative genres.
Band members retain the rights to the music they post, and Bebo plans to eventually offer them the option of selling directly to their fans.
"We may do it so that (bands) can do an e-commerce platform where we could earn a commission, and they would get the bulk of it," Birch said.
"It's very hard for unsigned bands. This is a way that they could actually make money," he added, noting that Bebo is not looking to be the next iTunes.
The company seems to have anticipated YouTube-like copyright and legal issues by stating the following on the site: "Uploading copyrighted music without the explicit consent of the copyright owner will result in both the Band homepage AND your personal homepage being cancelled."
Birch also said that Bebo is in talks with major record labels to begin featuring signed bands on the site. But, Birch said, Bebo will distinguish the naturally popular from the commercially promoted.
"We want Bebo to stay focused on the community. The idea that unsigned bands can rise to the top is important, and we can't just have people come in and pay for the top spots. If we become too commercial and go against the users' interest, then that's going to be very negative," Birch said.
"If we do do anything, it will be like Google, where they feature organic search on the left and sponsored clearly on the right," he said.
Although unlimited access to music is available while logged in to the site, there currently is no option to purchase tracks for download. Many bands instead feature their tracks for sale on iTunes.