Skype 2.5 beta was quietly released last night. Aside from Rich Tehrani, and Andy Abramson, nobody seems to have noticed. I’ve been playing with the new beta this morning, and while many of the changes are appreciated, they mostly fall into the category of ease-of-use and fit-and-finish. If I were the product manager for this release, I’d describe it as a loyalty building release, as opposed to a subscriber growth release. There’s nothing here that will cause non-subscribers to run out and get it.
- It’s easier to make a Skype-Out call because Skype now knows how to deal with international prefixes.
- It’s easier to buy Skype-Out credit, because there’s a button in the UI, rather than a web-page to visit.
- It now has an automatic update feature, so you don’t have to check the website anymore to find out if you have the latest build.
- You can see who’s talking in a conference call because their picture flashes.
- You can share contacts with others using a context menu.
- Shared groups let you create microgroups of people, and share them together. It’s something like a mailing list in a mail server. Potentially a very useful organizing feature, but because it lacks the ability to administer the groups once shared, it’s somewhat limited.
- You can send SMS messages to your buddies who are offline from the Skype chat interface.
Nice to have, and a good reason to go upgrade. Skype’s Jaanus has more details here.
Perhaps the real news from Skype is the announcement of Skypecasts. According to the Press Release "Skypecasts are live, moderated conversations allowing groups of up to 100 people from anywhere in the world to talk to one another." Targeted at consumers, Skype has created a partnership with Six Apart to make it easy to incorporate Skypecast links on blogs, allowing blogs to host chats without the reader ever leaving the blog.
This is a smart move. Hooking into the hundreds of millions of blogs in existence could really drive subscribership.
I checked out the Skypecasts page to see what it was all about. There are lots of Skypecasts to join, ranging from the banal ("I love Brittany Spears") to the serious ("IT Technology News"). Participating in a Skypecast is easy. You just click a link, and Skype starts and joins you to the Skypecast. Creating a Skypecast is very similar. Click, give it a name, schedule it or have it start right now, agree to the Community Guidelines, and your Skypecast is created. Don’t expect to see any saucy chat on Skypecasts — those Community Guidelines, and the accompanying Skype Etiquette guidelines make it quite clear that this kind of behaviour is not welcome.
When Skype joins you to the Skypecast, it makes a Skype-Out call. In this beta, it did not charge me any credits for participating in Skypecasts, but certainly there is the possibility that this could be a revenue source for Skype in the future. Services like FreeConferenceCall.Com may have just gotten new competition, or Skypecast could be the foundation for a larger entry by EBay into the live auction market.
For now, though, Skypecasts are cool, free, and an easy way to get larger groups of people talking. What could be better than that?