December 24th, 2007

Facebook challenged by ad-free rival

By Mark Sweney
Guardian Unlimited (UK)

Badoo, a social networking website which offers users the chance to pay to be popular while banning all advertising, is set to launch into an increasingly crowded UK market.

At the moment, Badoo is a relatively unknown web brand. However, Google recently rated it number two on its “fastest rising” list - behind the iPhone and ahead of Facebook - in its annual report based on the most popular web searches.

The fledgling company positions itself as a “natural evolution of existing social network and blogging sites”.

Badoo’s unusual business model works against the received wisdom of the primarily advertising-led efforts of established firms such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

“We wanted to be advertising free in order to have a ‘clean’ site so our users weren’t subject to adverts which we know can be a turnoff,” said Neil Bryant, the managing director of Badoo.

Revenue is derived by technology named Rise Up. For $1 in the US, 1 in Europe’s eurozone and 1 in the UK, users can choose to have their profile moved to the top of a rolling list of profiles - in a blend of Digg and a Reuters ticker - that all users can see.

“With Badoo users don’t have to add friends - they have immediate access to get their profile in front of the site’s entire online community,” said Bryant.

For security, users can block any “undesirable” or annoying profiles from seeing, or appearing, on their web page as well as keep information such as birth dates secret.

Asked whether this Rise Up function can provide enough revenue, Bryant said that 20% of Badoo’s 12.5 million users access the function once a month.

Thus far, Badoo has developed a strong following in Latin American countries, as well as France, Spain and Italy.

Next year, cracking the UK is a top priority. However, until Badoo has significantly more customers than the current UK user base of around 100,000, the Rise Up function will remain free.

Badoo is also trying to carve a niche in the celebrity market, just as MySpace has in music and Bebo has with youth.

The website aims to approach celebrities and pay them to build an official profile page - bogus profiles will be deleted.

“Badoo users love sharing information about themselves, their friends and celebrity so Badoo has decided that the quickest way to get the message out about the site is to get celebrities to spread and demonstrate the word,” said Bryant.

A PR-led push, fronted by as an as-yet-unnamed celebrity, is due to launch in February.

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