RealTime IT News

Yahoo! to World: Can We Talk?

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Yahoo! rolled out an enhanced version of its Yahoo! Messenger service that allows users to make reduced-rate international telephone calls from their PCs.

Users of the previous version were able to dial domestically using their personal computers, for 2 cents a minute. Rates for international calls were not disclosed, but a Yahoo! spokesperson was quoted as saying they are expected to be about half the average international rates.

The existing PC-to-PC voice chat feature remains free.

The move provides yet another revenue stream for Yahoo!, which has been looking to diversify its income after issuing recent financial guidance that warns about a slowdown in spending on ad sales. Last month Yahoo! named Terry S. Semel, former co-chairman of Time Warner's movie and music division, as its new chairman and CEO.

Yahoo! has seen steady stock price declines as the tech economy hit the skids, and in March Goldman, Sachs & Co. cut its rating on the stock, anticipating revenue worries throughout the year and predicting that the company would have to distance itself from advertising -- its chief source of revenue -- during 2001. The stock price was down 18 cents in mid-morning trading, to $19.95.

The new Messenger service app lets anyone with an Internet-connected computer equipped with a microphone, speakers and sound card take advantage of the international call service.

First-time users of PC-to-Phone calling will be prompted to set up a Yahoo! Phone Card -- a virtual calling card that lets users pay in advance for minutes. The password-protected Yahoo! calling card is integrated with Yahoo! Wallet, an SSL encrypted place to store credit card and billing information. The Yahoo! Phone Card also enables people to see what numbers they have called, how long they talked and the cost of each call.

"Integrating international PC-to-Phone calling capabilities at extremely low rates is the next logical step in offering our millions of users new voice services in addition to those that are already integrated and available on our network," said Lisa Pollock, director of Yahoo! Messaging Products.

The new version of Yahoo! Messenger also offers an enhanced address book; text-message archiving; the ability to personalize and change the names in the Friends list to more memorable nicknames; and new smileys that include a angels, devils, geeky bookworms and attitude-filled "talk-to-the-hand'" characters.

Yahoo! Messenger is also available for wireless devices based on the Palm Computing platform, palm-sized devices running WinCE, and WAP-enabled phones.