SOCIAL networking website Bebo could close this year after its parent company said it would not continue to fund the service.More than 12 million regular users could have their profiles deleted after AOL told employees on April 6 it would either shut or sell Bebo this year.AOL bought the worldwide social networking site for $US850 million two years ago. At the time of the sale, Bebo, founded in 2005 by British-born Michael Birch and his partner, Xochi, claimed to have about 40 million monthly users worldwide. That figure has dwindled as rival Facebook has swallowed up the market.A spokeswoman for AOL said Bebo had 12.8 million users worldwide in February. Facebook has more than 400 million active users, with 35 million of those updating their status each day.Despite Bebo being overshadowed by its rivals in the US, the service has proved popular in Britain, where it once threatened MySpace’s position as the premier social networking site before Facebook began to dominate.In an email to employees, Jon Brod, head of AOL’s startup acquisition and investment unit, AOL Ventures, said: ”It is clear that social networking is a space with heavy competition. Bebo, unfortunately, is a business that has been declining and would require significant investment to compete in the competitive social networking space.”AOL is not in a position at this time to further fund and support Bebo in pursuing a turnaround in social networking.”In a statement, the company said it would be ”working quickly” to determine whether there were any potential purchasers for Bebo, which has 40 staff worldwide.”The company’s current expectation is to complete our strategic evaluation by the end of May 2010,”it said.Last month, AOL announced the closure of many of its European offices after failing to reach a target to cut one-third of its workforce through voluntary redundancy.Guardian News & Media