If business in general and large companies and organisations in particular needed any further indication of where the future major growth lies then they should look no further than AOL’s decision to buy Bebo for £417m ($850).

The social networking site was bought in a cash deal and one stark statistic explains the reason – Bebo claims to have around 40 million monthly users worldwide. It will make Bebo’s founders even wealthier than they already are, but the pickings could be even richer for AOL in the longer term.

Bebo’s followers are a potentially massive captive audience for AOL, part of the Time Warner media empire, and every indication is that it will continue to grow.

Bebo itself might not expand much further, but the social networking phenomenon and Web 2.0 technology most certainly will and by taking over one of the early pioneers AOL has a much stronger foothold in this global market.

Of course, the fact that one of the global corporations has consumed Bebo has already led some to predict it signals the death-knell for the site itself and social networking as we know it.

That might well be true for some Bebo devotees, but recent experience shows that such sites are a hard habit to break – Yahoo taking over Flickr hasn’t really harmed the photo-sharing site’s monthly traffic, despite the ealy grumblings of discontent.

Those in the know might detest the big faceless corporations and go looking for the next big thing instead, but the overwhelming majority could hardly care less who is snaffling the profit from their own particular favourite website. If they did then there would surely be a far greater global backlash to the Murdoch empire’s recent moving and shaking.

So who is ripe for takeover next?

Rest assured, the big corporations have already been scouting around. They are gathering as much information as they can on the next big thing and the next big thing after that.

Yet the answer perhaps lies in one of the most intriguing and telling aspects of the Guardian’s story on the AOL-Bebo deal – at the bottom of the article is the reminder that another web pioneer, Google, bought a 5% stake in AOL in December 2005 for $1bn.

The established media companies might be looking to buy out the young upstarts.

But the young upstarts are growing at such a rate that the question should really be which of the traditional major players is ripe for take-over by the new generation of global media giants? 

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