Is AOL Getting Social?

Just because AOL (NYS: AOL) threw the Bebo out with the bathwater doesn't mean that it still doesn't have social aspirations.

News blog Fusible unearthed some interesting moves at the dot-com giant lately. It acquired the domain last week and has gone on to file trademark registrations covering a gamut of nvibe-branded possibilities including social networking services.

We can't jump to conclusions here.

It's way too easy to assume that AOL will be launching a run-of-the-mill Facebook-like website on its new domain. It would then be even easier to criticize AOL for overpaying for Bebo and practically giving it away a couple of years later when it could have just rebranded it. AOL is smarter than that, and this may be one of the many plans that never see the light of day.

However, Google's (NAS: GOOG) initial success with Google and the growing popularity of social networking sites in general by users of all ages are giving dot-com giants dreams of being the next Facebook or LinkedIn (NYS: LNKD) .

AOL can use the spark. It posted an unexpected loss on an 8% decline in revenue in its latest quarter. The silver lining in the otherwise poorly received report was that the company posted its first year-over-year increase in global advertising in three years.

Social networking has been a tough nut to monetize, but any success would be incremental to its available inventory of ad space to sell.

This doesn't mean that there isn't growth to be had in the niche. It's not just Facebook or LinkedIn either. China's Renren (NYS: RENN) and Quepasa's (ASE: QPSA) pending acquisition candidate myYearbook are growing from smaller bases. It's just that the larger online players -- primarily Google and Yahoo! (NAS: YHOO) -- have faltered in their social initiatives in the past. However, if Google continues to gain traction, that theory will be heaved into the wood chipper.

Let's see what AOL does with nvibe -- if it does anything at all.

If you want to see if AOL's efforts bear fruit, addAOLto My Watchlist.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Yahoo!.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Yahoo! and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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