The latest version of Skype allows users to offer services over the company's internet voice and video network.
Version 3.1, which was released on Wednesday, includes a "gold release" of Skype Find, a business directory service that lets users rate the different services, and which was previously in beta form. It also includes a beta of Skype Prime, "a new marketplace which brings together those people who have expertise or knowledge to sell with others who are seeking advice and happy to pay for it".
"We are providing the market with the basic infrastructure for having voice services and allowing private persons, as well as SMEs, to monetise on their knowledge using voice and video services," Sten Tamkivi, Skype's general manager of e-commerce, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. In return for providing that infrastructure, Skype will take a 30 percent cut of any takings.
Tamkivi described the beta as a "sneak peek into what is to come" and pointed out that, while it is possible to "become a Prime provider today", Skype is not releasing a directory for the services until future releases. These will also offer tighter integration into the Skype client, Tamkivi said.
The beta phase is also limited in the types of services that can be provided. Currently, categories include astrology and "spiritual", business and finance, computing, creative services, coaching and tutoring, "relationships" and sport. The languages that can be used include English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese. Services of an adult or illegal nature are not permitted.
Examples of services already available on Skype Prime include a PhD engineering student based in Taipei who offers language tutoring and advice on how to get into foreign universities, and a Netherlands-based magician claiming to offer mind-reading services over IP, claimed Tamkivi.
The user will pay the service provider using Skype credits, and providers will have to receive their cut through PayPal, Skype's sister company under the auspices of eBay. Rates can be negotiated at the beginning of the call and have to be set between €0.40-€2 (£0.27-£1.37) per minute or €0.40-€10 (£0.27-£6.85) per call, excluding VAT. Skype may levy the 15 percent VAT it charges as a Luxembourg company, "where applicable".
Skype is also offering customer support for service providers.