Be your own talk-show host with Skypecasts!

Be your own talk-show host with Skypecasts!

Version 2.5 (beta) of Skype's VoIP service is available for download from the company's Web site and includes a plethora of new features. You can easily import your contacts from Microsoft Outlook and call someone on that list using SkypeOut via Skype's interface. Also, instead of having to remember country codes, a new drop-down menu on the Dial Pad lets you choose the country you're calling, which is handy. The new SMS features lets you send text messages to mobile phones, though the feature allows only outgoing messages for now. Conference calling gets a boost, too: instead of trying to blindly track who's talking, the speaker's picture will flash on your screen as they begin talking. (No more trying to stay anonymous with the snark!)

Even bigger news is the preview of Skypecasts, which are live, moderated conversations for groups of up to 100 people. To use it, you'll need to download and install the beta of Skype 2.5. Go to the Skypecast page to browse the ongoing or upcoming conversations to find one that interests you and click "Join this Skypecast" to join the fray. If you want to host a Skypecast, you'll be asked to sign in, and pick a subject, give a short description, and schedule the Skypecast. As the host, you have the power to pass the virtual microphone, mute, or eject participants (oh, you tyrant!). You can arrange for the Skypecast to be an open discussion (like a huge conference call) or as a one-way broadcast (by muting all participants).

The CNET Buzz Out Loud folks will be using the Skypecast feature next Friday, May 12, to record a podcast in front of a live "studio" audience. If you want to hear Molly, Tom, and Veronica do their thing live, go to the Skypecast page that day to sign up for the Buzz Out Loud Skypecast. But do it early, as only 100 people can participate (we'll post the link when it's available), and I hear those three are pretty popular!

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