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Skype plans Web-phone for groups

Skype is bringing social networking to crowds as it unveils a service for groups of up to 100 people to hold spontaneous conversations online.

india Updated: May 03, 2006 17:16 IST

Web phone-calling company Skype is bringing social networking to crowds as it unveils a service for groups of up to 100 people to hold spontaneous conversations online.

The international phone-calling service, which has signed up 100 million users is adding 200,000 new users a day, said on Tuesday it is previewing a shared communications service called "Skypecasts" along with an upgrade of its core Skype software.

Skypecasts are live, moderated discussions that allow groups of Skype users anywhere in the world to discuss shared interests, from classes to computer support to cultural or political debates. They amount to the conversational equivalent of Web blogs, complementing the written interactions of blogs.

"To date users have been talking one-to-one and one-to-many in private settings," Saul Klein, Skype's head of marketing, said in an interview of Skype's current services. "Skypecast is about starting to have conversations in public settings."

The service is moderated by a designated host who is able to pass a virtual microphone to participants in the group when they wish to speak. To keep conversations on track, the software allows the moderator to silence or eject detractors.

The social networking trend grew up out of the online dating scene with the rise of Friendster and has evolved as the power of collaborating with one's friends and acquaintances has been applied to everything from music to news to Web search.

Skype takes the concept of social networking literally, based on the recognition that buddies on the phone or in an instant message chat are one's social network in a real sense.

Coming from a different starting point is MySpace, which began around the same time as a music fan site, but has grown into a broad-based media distribution platform for its owner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

"The whole idea of talking on Skype is based around actual social networks -- one's address book of contacts," Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said.

The lines between Internet media sites and communications companies such as Skype are increasing blurring as both types of companies offer an increasingly similar set of features.

"There is this natural inclination by big communications giants to want to be the focal point for the user experience, the starting point, the way to search the Web, and not just an instant message or voice communication tool," Li said.

Hosting or participating in a Skypecast is completely free. The feature is in preview mode, said the Luxembourg-based unit of online auctioneer eBay Inc.

Skype is working with several Web community services including Six Apart, the San Francisco-based blogging software maker, as a way for bloggers to create an interactive way for their audiences to hold open conversations online. It is working with OpenVC, a European business networking site, and, a dating network site popular with British youth.

Bloggers can schedule Skypecasts and link to them from their sites, so visitors using Skype can click to join discussions instantly, without leaving a blog site.

Skype is also set to introduce version 2.5 of the Skype software, with a grab bag of new features, including giving any Skype user on a computer or phone the ability to send text messages directly to mobile phone users, Klein said.

The new software is available for download at 11:00 GMT on Wednesday. It simplifies features on Skype for novice users, including making international dialing and paying for calls in different currencies easier, said IDC analyst Will Stofega.

"Skype is trying to really fix a few of the things that maybe the novice doesn't instinctively understand," he said.

On Monday, Skype had said it was furthering its push into business market through a partnership with speakerphone maker Polycom Inc, which plans to offer a handheld-sized Skype speakerphone for travelers that runs off a laptop and costs $129 -- the low end of speakerphone pricing.

First Published: May 03, 2006 16:45 IST