Skype on Wednesday unveiled new software with automatic click-to-call features designed to make shopping easier and that also encourages users to join group conversations.
Skype Chief Executive Niklas Zennstrom said in an interview that features in the new Skype 3.0 -- available in a public test version starting on Wednesday -- can help the company move beyond its dependence on communications revenue.
The company has said it expects $195 million in revenue, up 225 percent from $60 million it took in 2005.
"You are also going to see new services which are more targeted to e-commerce," Zennstrom said.
Skype-calling software allows users to place free phone calls to other Skype users on computers. It also offers cut-rate prices for calls to conventional landline or mobile phone users from either computers or a new generation of Skype-ready phones now available worldwide.
Click-to-call allows calls to be to be placed the moment a Skype user clicks on a phone number listed on any Web page.
The promise of such features for use in Web-based customer service or closing sales was a big selling point that online auctioneer eBay Inc. had highlighted when it acquired Skype a year ago in a deal worth more than $4 billion.
Skype 3.0 automates this process by allowing users with only one click to make ordinary phone calls from Web pages.
"Our long-term goal is to have much more balance between e-commerce and telecommunications revenues," he told Reuters.
Speaking to an audience of Internet industry insiders at the annual Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, Zennstrom reiterated that Skype must move to replace communication revenue as phone calls eventually become free.
Two significant partnerships should help drive Skype business in 2007: Skype's parent eBay has struck partnerships with Yahoo Inc. in the United States and with Google Inc. outside U.S. territory.
"There are other e-commerce services that I cannot talk about today that we are working on as well," he said.
Skype 3.0 software is designed to run on Microsoft Corp. Windows-based computers.
Another feature allows users to set up text-based chats with up to 100 Web users, whether Skype users or not. This text chat feature complements an earlier group audio feature called Skypecast, which allows live, moderated audio conversations with up to 100 participants.
"When Skype started out, people communicated with people who knew each other already, one-to-one," Zennstrom said. "Now you can host a public conversation on any topic."
The public chat feature, which can be initiated and moderated by any Skype user to control who else takes part, also can be embedded into blogs or Web pages to encourage such conversations to take place across the Web, Zennstrom said.
Skype had 136 million users registered users at the end of the September, up 23 million in the three months from June.