Skype to connect buyers with sellers

The latest version of Skype allows users to offer services over the company's Internet voice and video network.

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 7 March, includes a "gold release" of Skype Find, a business directory service that lets users rate the different services, which was previously in beta form.

Scott Bagby, vice president for Asia-Pacific, expects the new feature will work well in Australia, where he says up to 80 to 90 percent of businesses are small- to medium- sized and rely on word of mouth to generate business.

Bagby was vague on specific details, saying that businesses could choose to pay a premium to ensure that their business would feature higher on listings, drawing similarities to Google's advertising model.

He said there would be appropriate checks in place to ensure that Skype Find isn't vandalised and that listings results are not abused.

The latest iteration 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 Australia sister site ZDNet UK recently. 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.

Bagby clarified that services of an offensive or violent nature or associated with gaming, health and therapy, or tax or legal advice are also prohibited.

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 euros (AU$0.65 - AU$3.30) per minute or 0.40 - 10 euros (AU$0.65 - AU$16.50) per call, excluding tax. Skype may levy the 15 percent value added tax (VAT) it charges as a Luxembourg company, "where applicable".

Skype is also offering customer support for service providers.

Speaking to the media in Sydney, Bagby said Skype Pro will launch Down Under in the coming months. The service, only available in selected European territories at present, offers free calls to domestic landlines (previously 0.017 euros per minute), free Skype Voicemail (previously 15 euros per year), Skype Credit, to the value of 5 euros, on sign-up and discounts on third-party VoIP handsets.

Local pricing has yet to be announced.

This follows Skype's alliance with Hutchison in Australia to provide 3 X-Series customers with VoIP calls on their mobile phones, announced on Tuesday.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.