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Bebo president: We're not just for kids anymore

Now that the social network's acquisition by AOL has gone through, it's time to focus on expanding to new regions and new demographics, says Joanna Shields.

Bebo's core demographic might be teens and young adults in the U.K., but President Joanna Shields said that now that the social network's acquisition by AOL is complete, it's time to start expanding. Now that she's in charge of AOL's "People Networks" division, which encompasses Bebo as well as the AIM and ICQ instant-messaging services, her goal is to expand the service's reach and bring it up to par with bigger rivals like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace.

"If you look at Bebo (a year ago) it was much more of a youth brand," Shields said in an interview with CNET Monday. "It looked younger, it had a younger feel to it, but over the course of my time here, over 18 months, we've evolved the DNA of the site, we've matured it." While the Bebo of the U.K. and Ireland will retain a youth vibe, the feel will be much more universal when it "expands into new markets," per Shields.

Additionally, as Bebo creeps into new geographic territories, advertisements will be served by AOL's Platform A technology, not by current ad partner Yahoo. Bebo's U.S. site will also transition from Yahoo to AOL ads.

"In each new market we go into, of course now that we have this extraordinary technology, we will launch with Platform A," Shields said.

Yahoo will continue to serve Bebo ads in three regions. "We have a very positive relationship with Yahoo in the U.K., Ireland, and Australia," Shields explained. "That current relationship goes until the end of 2009." She declined to specify what the plan would be after that, but she did say that she expects Bebo to be exempt from the difficulties some other social sites have on the monetization front because of its focus on media consumption rather than just communication.

"Sending an ad to someone who's communicating is quite different from someone that is consuming entertainment," she said, mentioning Bebo's original video programming as well as its "Open Media" platform, which partners with companies like MTV Networks, the BBC, and ESPN. "There's no surprise that we ended up with a media company, or a company with a media heritage, given the part of the spectrum of social networking where we reside, the category we tried to create--a social media network."

Shields said it's too early in the AOL ownership to be able to gauge whether Bebo would be launching a data portability project like Facebook's Facebook Connect or MySpace's Data Availability. "I'm a firm believer that you've got to be open," she hinted. With regard to further developer-related announcements, she explained, "We've been through this quiet period through the acquisitions...We haven't yet socialized those discussions with the AOL folks because we've been operating independently."

Bebo's application platform is notable because it's compatible with both the OpenSocial standard and Facebook's application code.

But right now the mantra is expansion first. "My goal and the goal of our team is to expand distribution," she explained, "and to build and to expose the Bebo experience to more and more territories."