One of the more tedious aspects of online life is the ping-pong approach to human interaction. One minute you're checking your Gmail or Yahoo Mail account, the next you're on Twitter or AIM, and then you're hoping around media sites to check out the latest videos, music, movies, and games.
AOL believes it has an easier way. Its Bebo social network will now aggregate and update content from a variety of sources, including e-mail, social feeds (such as Twitter), and media sites. The new Social Inbox aggregates information from a fairly impressive roster of top-tier sites and services, including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, Twitter, Flickr, Del.icio.us, and YouTube. In additional, the 100 million-plus AOL Mail and AIM users will now be able to log into the Bebo using their existing screen names.
AOL's move is a smart one for a few reasons. In the U.S., Bebo has been an also-ran social network, trailing Facebook and MySpace, although the service has had more success in Britain. The Social Inbox gives Bebo, at least temporarily, an interesting hook, and a compelling reason for new users to check it out. Face it, most of us aren't thrilled by the thought of signing up for another online community--with another password and user name to forget--so the one-stop inbox is appealing. However, one strike against the Social Inbox is that it doesn't work with competitors Facebook or MySpace, a shortcoming that may turn away a lot of potential users.
Granting AOL Mail and AIM users immediate access to Bebo makes sense too. More than 100 million people use AOL's e-mail and instant messenger, the company says, and at least some of them will check out Bebo. AOL paid a hefty $850 million for Bebo earlier this year, and it needs a return on that investment. Maybe the Social Inbox will help.