VoIP and telephony service babyTEL is launching a new Facebook application this morning called Telephone that gives you access to a phone and answering machine without leaving Facebook. Instead of going the embedded route, like YackPack, babyTEL instead relies on a small Java runtime that sits in your computer's taskbar, or the dock if you're on Mac OS X. Once you fire it up, there's a simple authentication process to pull up your list of friends on the social networking service, and allow you to call them for free--assuming you have a headset or speakers and a microphone.
You can initiate calls in two ways. The first is through the Java application's built-in directory. Assuming you have friends who have added the application, they'll show up on your buddy list. You can also start a call right from Facebook, although both parties need to have the Java application up and running, which could potentially be a problem if somebody's away. Luckily, there's a built-in voice mail service that will let your callers leave a message, which you can personalize at any time. Voice mail messages will go straight to whatever e-mail address you give the service, so you can grab them later. The application will also log each of your conversations by date, time, and with whom you were talking, although there's no way to record a conversation.
If there's one shortcoming to this application, it's that it requires both parties to add it to their collection of applications on Facebook, along with running the Java application on their Mac or PC. This is a lot more work than an offering like Yackpack considering you're basically getting the same functionality. You're also missing out on the complexities of status messages, to let you know if a friend is away and will return shortly, and the option to make such changes on your own status. If you're going to put anything on your computer, I personally think Skype is a far more compelling VoIP platform, and also has the extensibility of adding quick "call me" buttons on your blog or social networking profile.