VoIP giant Skype is courting the booming social networking scene with the preview of a new free service to coincide with the release of Skype 2.5 Beta on Wednesday.
SkypeCasts are being touted as "live, chaired conversations allowing groups of up to 100 people from anywhere in the world to talk to one another". There is no release date yet but a beta is "imminent", the company said on Wednesday morning.
Alistair Shrimpton, UK manager for Skype, said he expected users of sites such as MySpace and LiveJournal to "embrace this SkypeCast technology as an extra layer of discussion and communication".
"It’s really taking the popularity for written exchange over the Internet and giving them the opportunity to have that discussion with audio, and live," he told ZDNet UK.
A key feature of SkypeCasts will be that they are convened by a user who then moderates the discussion, muting or unmuting, approving or ejecting guests at will. Up to 100 users could be allowed to speak at once, or the host could allow one speaker at a time by acknowledging their request and passing them a "virtual microphone".
SkypeCasts will be publicised on a section of the Skype website, so it is hoped that upcoming discussions will be linked to and promoted by various blogs and interested parties.
One feature of Skype 2.5 Beta, 'shared contact groups', also plays to the social networking community. If a new Skype user is invited into an established group, that group’s members will be added automatically to their own contact list. Whole groups will be able to join a SkypeCast at the touch of a button.
The new beta also boasts a streamlined registration process, a payments system that is incorporated into the client rather than requiring a visit to Skype’s website, and the ability to choose to view and call Outlook contacts within the VoIP client. Users can choose the country of their SkypeOut call recipient from a list rather than having to remember their country’s dialling code, and the client will now respond to bandwidth and processing problems by actively suggesting solutions to the user.
One feature likely to reinforce the eventual encroachment of VoIP into GSM territory is the ability to send a text message from Skype to any mobile phone. This will initially be a one-way service costing an estimated 20 to 25 euro cents, payable from the user’s SkypeOut credit, with the cost varying according to the country and network of the recipient.