Skype to connect buyers with sellers

VoIP company takes page from parent eBay, offering a business-rating directory and a service linking advice givers and seekers.

Skype's business model is taking a distinct eBay shape.

The latest software from the Luxembourg-based Internet telephony specialist, acquired by the online-auction king in 2005, enables users to offer services over the company's Internet voice and video network.

Skype 3.1, which was released on Wednesday for Windows PCs, includes a feature called SkypeFind that lets users list and rate local businesses. It also includes a beta version of Skype Prime, a "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," according to the company.

"We are providing the market with the basic infrastructure for having voice services and allowing private persons, as well as (small and midsize companies), to monetize their knowledge using voice and video services," Sten Tamkivi, Skype's head of worldwide operations, said Wednesday.

In return for providing that infrastructure, Skype plans to take a 30 percent cut of any service revenue.

Tamkivi described the test version of Skype Prime 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-testing phase is also limited in the types of services that can be provided. Skype Prime service categories currently include astrology and spiritual, business and finance, computing, creative, coaching and tutoring, relationships and sports. The languages that can be used include English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese. Services of a pornographic or illegal nature are not permitted.

Services already available on Skype Prime include those of a Ph.D. engineering student based in Taiwan and a magician based in the Netherlands. While the engineering student is offering language tutoring and advice on how to get into foreign universities, the magician is selling what he claims are mind-reading services, Tamkivi said.

Under the Skype Prime setup, the user pays the service provider using Skype credits, and providers have to receive their cut through eBay service PayPal.

Rates can be negotiated at the beginning of the call. They must be set between 40 euro cents and 2 euros (53 cents and $2.64) per minute or between 40 euro cents and 10 euros ($13.18) per call, excluding taxes.

Skype is also offering customer support for service providers.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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