By Eric Auchard
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
"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 Bebo.com, a dating network site popular with
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 1100 GMT (12:00
p.m. British time) 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 (70 pounds) -- the low end of
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/more-news.html . Hundreds of new
articles daily. And, discuss this and other topics in our forum at
For more headline news from the daily media, please go to: