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Bebo to Roll Out Ad Widgets

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NEW YORK Bebo is readying the launch of its first advertiser widgets, small Web applications users can embed in their personal Web pages.

The social network last week began allowing users to embed miniature Web applications into their profile pages, letting them choose from three photo-sharing widgets from Slide, Photobucket and Rockyou. Bebo plans to build a collection of widgets users can choose to add to their profiles.

In 2007, Bebo plans to add advertiser-supported widgets, like interactive games, which users can opt to add to their profiles. Advertiser applications will get a featured spot in the Bebo Widgets gallery.

The ad widgets are part of what Bebo vp of sales and business development Jim Scheinman calls "engagement marketing," designed to combine Web ads with user-directed viral marketing. Visitors to a profile with a widget for their own page can add it with a couple clicks.

"If it's great content, it's going to engage the user so much more," he said. "To the Beboer, they don't look at it like advertising but great content."

Its first advertiser widget is coming from the American Legacy Foundation, which plans to run an interactive gaming application that will let kids show their opposition to smoking while also adding a fun tool to their profile. Scheinman said Bebo would release several other advertiser applications in the first part of the year.

A comparatively small presence to MySpace in the U.S. market, Bebo is the top social network in several markets abroad, including its home base in the United Kingdom. In November, it attracted about 1.4 million unique visitors, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Scheinman said the company aims to have a "MySpace-like" audience in the U.S. by the end of 2007: 30 million regular users.

One of the ways it plans to win over users is giving them more say in the site's advertising, rather than plaster it with banner placements. Like Facebook, Bebo has opted to include just one ad unit per page, and it recently began giving users the option of filling out an ad profile, which it then uses to target more relevant banner ads to them.

Users can fill out the ad profile when registering for Bebo or by clicking on a "choose ads" link at the bottom of banner ads on the site. The data collected is used for ads Bebo serves and those run by third-party ad networks like Google AdSense. Scheinman said more than 200,000 members had filled out ad profiles in the first six weeks, and he expects more as it makes the option more evident to users.

"They understand we need to do the advertising to pay for the service," he said.