SkypePal makes its appearance, finally

At the mesh meetup we had at the Charlotte Room tonight, I ran into Jim Courtney of Skype Journal and he said he had just finished posting something interesting about the new Skype beta — and he was right. It seems that not only is the client being improved, but eBay is finally starting to achieve some of the synergies that many observers were hoping for when it bought the VoIP service for $4-billion or so way back when.

skype.pngAccording to knowledgeable people like Jim and Iotum co-founder Alec Saunders, who posted on it here, among the things that Skype has improved is the sound quality of the application. Now, the sound is apparently just as good with the regular mike and speakers you get with a PC as it is with a dedicated headset or other equipment, which will be a big boon for regular users.

Jim says he suspects that Skype is making use of new codec technology they acquired awhile ago. They’ve also made it possible to take a snapshot with your video cam to use as a profile picture, and you can import contacts from more mail clients than before.

But for me, the biggest move with this beta is the fact that you can now click and send money to contacts via PayPal — which was one of the no-brainer synergies that I expected would have happened a long time ago. Maybe there was some technical issue holding it up, I don’t know. But finally it’s possible.

Janus Friis turns into Janus Friisky

Friis.jpgI know that this has nothing whatsoever to do with Web 2.0 or anything like that — apart from possibly illustrating how a guy who used to help people download copyright-infringing music files can become a Hollywood-sized celebrity, complete with airborne scandal — but I couldn’t help noticing that Janus Friis of Skype and Joost fame was discovered recently trying to join the Mile-High Club with his paramour, Christina Knudsen, step-daughter of Bond actor Roger Moore. The ever-tactful and tasteful Nick Carr refers to this as Mr. Friis trying to start a new “peer-to-peer network” with Ms. Knudsen, a line I wish I had come up with. Blogger Pat Phelan, meanwhile, notes that the pair might have consummated their relationship but flight attendants stopped them Joost in time. (hat tip to Luca Filigheddu). Incidentally, the Great Dane’s real name appears to be Janus Friis Degnbol, at least according to the recent statement of settlement in the Kazaa lawsuit (pdf link).

At last, the Skype integration starts to appear

After paying somewhere between $2.6-billion and a gazillion dollars (okay, $4.1-billion) for Skype about nine months ago, eBay finally seems to be getting around to doing some of the integration that everyone was talking about at the time. One of the most interesting possibilities is Skype-Paypal integration, as seen in a screenshot at Om’s blog — which in turn came from Random Good Stuff via a German blog.

Developers were apparently shown a right-click menu with the option to “send money (via PayPal) and “request money.” Random Good Stuff mentions the obvious possibility: Web-cam porn outfits asking you for money via Skype and PayPal. But at least eBay is starting to show us some synergies between it and Skype.

There’s another obvious one as well that is in the works: a SkypeMe button that sellers can attach to their profiles in eBay. But several major questions remain: Will enough sellers want that feature, or will it be an annoyance? And won’t it just encourage sellers to close transactions outside of eBay? And are these integrated features worth $4.1-billion?

Update:

Someone from 21talks.com points out in a comment that the PayPal functionality has already been announced, which was covered by their site and also by SkypeJournal. Thanks for that, Nuno. That makes eBay’s announcements yesterday somewhat less impressive.

Use VOIP to call your broker — and sell

And so we return to our story, to find our hero — the plucky little (or not so little) voice-over-Internet company Vonage — finally going public, after much back-and-forthing over the past year about when to issue stock and for how much, or whether to try and convince someone to take the company over. And what happens? The stock tanks, dropping by as much as 15 per cent at one point on Wednesday. Needless to say, that’s not what most IPOs are supposed to do (as Mark points out), especially since underwriters of initial offerings usually try hard to underprice the issue so that they get a little “pop” on opening day.

Well, Vonage definitely got a pop, but it was more like the sound a balloon makes before it deflates. Why? as Paul Kedrosky notes, it isn’t much of a surprise. While the term VOIP may be hot, industry watchers such as Om Malik have been warning for some time that Vonage is caught between a rock and a hard place — it has the name-brand value (courtesy of a very expensive marketing campaign) but it is being squeezed by free VOIP provider Skype on one hand and by cable providers on the other.

It’s true that by selling shares at $17 (U.S.) each, Vonage managed to raise a little over $500-million, giving the entire company a combined market value of over $2.5-billion. So we shouldn’t be holding any charity drives for CEO Jeffrey Citron, whose stake is likely worth about $1-billion or so. But at the same time, Vonage needs all that money to try and plug the gigantic hole in its balance sheet, which continues to drain money at a furious pace. Last year, the company lost $261-million, which was almost as much as it had in revenue.

The worst part is that Vonage’s costs are likely to remain roughly the same, or even increase, as the market gets more competitive — and yet its chances of becoming profitable are likely to fall, as Skype and the cable companies both put pressure on prices. Sound like a good recipe for an investment to you? Then Vonage would like to hear from you. Better use Skype to call your broker though, it’s cheaper. (Henry Blodget has a great anecdote from an AP story about a Vonage user who got some stock as part of the issue).

This Skype call brought to you by Intel

Earlier this month, Skype announced that it had signed a deal with Intel Corp. which gives users of the company’s new dual-core chips added features when they make VOIP calls with Skype. Specifically, it allows them to engage in conference calls with as many as 10 people, compared with only five for the non-Intel version, and promises additional features such as video calling in the future.

This deal struck some observers as a little odd at the time, since Skype software works with virtually any kind of PC hardware, and voice-over-Internet services aren’t the type of thing that uses huge amounts of computing power. As it turns out, one of the observers who found the partnership more than a little odd was Advanced Micro Devices, Intel’s main competitor. AMD just happens to be suing Intel for anti-trust violations resulting from its dominant market share, and it has now asked Skype for documents relating to its deal with Intel.

Skype has denied that it arranged to limit its features on any non-Intel platform. According to the company, the 10-way calling feature requires a lot of processor strength, which only the Intel dual-core can provide. Not surprisingly, AMD disagrees. And some tech industry observers say the argument that a voice-over-Internet service requires extra horsepower stretches the limits of believability — what most VOIP services rely on is bandwidth or Internet connection speed. Others wonder whether Skype, which was bought by eBay in a controversial deal worth up to $4-billion, is getting nervous about growth and looking for some help in that department.

Update:

There is apparently a “patch” that will allow 10-way conference calls on any processor.