Audio Blogging With Skype By The Hundreds

With a nod to the popularity of podcasts and social-networking, VoIP darling Skype today unveiled Skypecasts, a service allowing up to 100 users to hold real-time moderated calls on topics.

Skypecasts expand on its existing un-moderated conference calling feature limited to 10 participants. The new service introduces a group moderator able to control the flow of conversation and eject unruly speakers.

Skype, which is owned by eBay, last week announced its free software for PC-to-PC calling had reached 1 million downloads.

Bloggers are expected to lead the way as natural first-adopters of the new service. The online discussions can extend user interaction by offering Skypecasts which readers can join. Blogging software maker Six Apart, the company behind Moveable Type, TypePad and LiveJournal, is offering bloggers advice on using Skypecasts.

For some time, bloggers have offered visitors recorded Skype phone conversations that could be downloaded as podcasts.

Skype offers a directory of Skypecasts and instructions how to join the discussions.

“We’ve been looking to see VoIP evolve beyond cheap phone calls,” Kate Griffin, a Yankee Group analyst, told The new service is a welcome sign that Skype is willing to experiment with VoIP’s boundaries, she added.

Skypecasts could reach beyond blogging to small business owners seeking an alternative for casual conference calling. Companies could use Skypecasts to contact employees in China, suggested IDC analyst Will Stofega.

Beyond its newness, Skype may be running counter to how consumers access information. Rather than collecting information whenever they wish, Skypecasts require callers to connect to a discussion at a certain time.

“Consumers are in the driver seat when they consume information,” Griffin said.

While other VoIP providers, such as Vonage or AT&T, offer traditional conference calling, Skype is alone in opening the feature to 100 callers. Griffin questioned how consumers might react to such an expansive ability.

Skype’s newest offering isn’t competing with other VoIP providers. It’s taking on newcomers edging their way into the Internet telephony space, such as voice-enabled Instant Messaging (IM) applications. The reality is IM has a larger base of users, according to Griffin.

“This is Skype’s attempt to differentiate itself from IM applications,” Griffin said. Yahoo, Google, AOL and Microsoft recently enhanced their IM services with voice capabilities.

Griffin sees GoogleTalk as the likeliest application competing with Skypecast.

The new beta software addresses another way Skype is trying to stay ahead of the pack: ease-of-use. Installing the 2.5 beta software is now a one-click process, down from three clicks. Using your SkypeIn and SkypeOut services have also been simplified.

Recharging you account credits has been simplified and is now built into the software. Users have a choice of 15 currencies.

SkypeOut subscribers can view Outlook contact information directly from Skype. You can also share contacts, create groups and initiate group calls with just one click.

SkypeOut users can send one-way SMS messages to cell phones. If it’s a foreign call, finding the country code has been simplified to a drop-down menu.

Also unveiled were several Skype-certified products, including a speakerphone from Polycom, a company well-placed in the enterprise sector, according to Stofega.

The service is available today as part of version 2.5 of the downloadable beta Skype software.

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