A growing number of people are sharing the digital music on MP3 players and other music devices using freely available software and Skype, a free Internet phone service.
The enthusiasts are borrowing heavily from another personal broadcasting phenomenon called , in which digital recordings are posted on a Web site for download to a variety of music players, including desktop PCs and portable gadgets like Apple Computer's wildly popular iPod. "Skypecasters," as they call themselves, use Skype's peer-to-peer telephone network to distribute recordings over the Internet directly to each other for free.
Some evidence suggests that Skypecasters may be becoming more widespread, even though it requires a high level of technical know-how.
The "implications are very disruptive," according to the SkypeJournal, a well-known Web community that provides Skypecast instructions. "Many Skypers want to record their Skype conversations and turn them into podcasts."
Skype is the largest of the new breed of companies offering voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, which lets Internet connections double as telephone lines by treating calls no differently than e-mail, Web pages or other common Internet travelers. Skype gives away its VoIP software, and phone calls that stay on the Internet are free. Skype also has premium services that charge about 2 cents a minute to call cell or landline phones.
The Luxembourg-based upstart has so far signed up 29 million registered users for its free PC-to-PC Net phone calling service. Earlier this month, the company reported that its SkypeOut service, which connects PC calls to traditional phone lines for a fee, reached 1 million customers since launching in July 2004. To some extent, Skype competes against Vonage, which at 550,000-plus subscribers is among the world's largest commercial VoIP providers, as well as some cable companies, which have commercial VoIP services of their own.
Skype's peer-to-peer infrastructure--similar in construct to Kazaa, Morpheus and other file-swapping programs--makes it well-suited for turning Net phones into a broadcasting system, as Skypecasters now do. Skype and Kazaa were both developed byand Janus Friis.
Other possibilities discussed by Skypecasters at Unbound Spiral or Moodle are to turn an MP3 player into a radio station for any of Skype's 29 million registered users to dial up using their Skype line. Instructions also are available on how to record a personal soap opera and use Skype to distribute it en masse. Even more ominously, some Skypecasters record Skype calls and post them on the Internet.
All of the work is being done without Skype's active input. But it has made some of its source code public so developers can tinker with new applications, such as Skypecasting, said Skype spokeswoman Kelly Larrabee. "We're aware of this and encourage developers to help facilitate it," she said.
"It's a relatively complicated set-up that requires some technical sophistication and awareness of one's entire hardware and software environment," she added.