Skype today released a new "3.1" beta for Windows (you can get it here) with a number of minor tweaks - and a brand new component called "SkypeFind". As you can see in the picture to the right, there's a new tab added... and is the entrance of Skype into the game already being played by GoogleMaps, Yahoo!Local and Microsoft's Windows Live Local... namely... providing an easily searchable directory of businesses.
It's not stated, but it's pretty clear the ultimate goal is to control the directory you use to initiate calls. Think about it, Google is aiming to do this with their "click-to-call" in Google Maps. Find an entry (in the US, anyway) and simply click "call" and your regular phone rings. It's simple and easy. Google controls the directory and the initiation of calls. It's even more logical for Skype to do this. Find a business in the directory, click the phone number and you're dialling away using Skype/SkypeOut...
Of course, Skype aims to be more than simply yet another business directory. As the Skype blog entry states:
SkypeFind is one of the most interesting features that we’ve done in quite a while now. We call it “Local businesses you like”, and that’s what it is - a collection of businesses, with reviews and comments, built by everyone using Skype.
So it's really a mashup of a business directory, a ratings service... and a social networking service. The other interesting aspect is that the directory is basically empty! It started out this morning basically with only a few entries. Tonight it's now up to "318 listings in 49 countries by 83 people". (Of course, you'd have to find out about the beta and then have the time to experiment. I actually learned of it because I've stayed logged into the Skype Journal public chat and conversation popped up there this morning.) Now I find it interesting that Skype didn't work with someone else to pre-load the database, but: a) this is still in beta; and b) the major local databases are in the hands of Skype competitors who have very little reason to work with Skype.
As you can see in the image on the left (click image for larger view), when you go into the SkypeFind tab, you wind up being able to search within a country, region, etc. There's also recommendations from people in your contact list shown on the bottom of the panel. You can switch to a different region.
Since Burlington, VT, had no entries and I didn't feel like entering any, I switched to the UK and figured searching for "pub" in "London" ought to generate some listings. It did, of course, and if you click on the image to the right to get the larger view, you'll see entries with reviews and ratings. Skype is using a cute motif of a flower with petals being removed as the rating goes lower. Note also the choices in the dropbox in the upper right corner:
- Most relevant
- Most called
- Highest rating
Most called? Well, of course, if you are Skype you would have knowledge of how many times Skype users call that number. Just an interesting twist that you wouldn't find, of course, in the other directories (although you would wonder if Google could add it with their click-to-call).
Another interesting twist is the "Ask your friends" for recommendations button seen at the bottom of the listing. I've not played with this yet, but per the Skype blog entry, it will change your advisory/mood message to be a question and provide a link to a public chat where Skype-using friends can then join you (presumably with Skype 3.0 or later) and answer your questions (or at least chat with you).
Going into an entry shows the ratings and reviews and gives you the ability to add your own review. But also notice the little link at the top? It says:
Edit this listing
Yep... you can just click on it and go in and change the name, address, web site... basically any info except for the phone number and country which per the SkypeFind guide, Skype uses as a unique identifier. Now being a security guy, I immediately wonder about this... I can put in any URL. What's to prevent a spammer from going through all these pubs and entering the URL for some spam site? Or a competitor from changing the names around? Or someone just making mischief? Nothing, really. Phil Wolff called it a "wiki" in the Skype Journal chat today and that is what it's like. You can view the editing history, so you can see who made the changes (or at least the SkypeID of who made the change)... but the changes have in fact been made. It will be curious to see how much abuse this does or does not get.
So will SkypeFind ever have ads or premium listings? It would seem to be the obvious thing to do (like Google's sponsored results) and Paul Kapustka writing over at Om Malik's GigaOm site has a review of SkypeFind that quotes Skype General Manager of E-Commerce Sten Tamkivi as saying that SkypeFind may include ads in the future. The article also talks again about how recommendations from friends will help listings "bubble up"... we'll see... first there need to be listings before they can bubble up! (I know, I know, it hasn't even been out for 24 hours....)
One curious omission, that I have to credit Phil Wolff for pointing out. If you look at the larger view of the "Add a listing" screen to the right, you'll notice something fairly basic is missing... a place to enter a Skype ID! It seems that for a business to be listed you must have a PSTN number. Given that it's Skype, you might have thought there would be a way to enter the Skype ID and call the business over Skype!
Ah, well, it's still in beta... and only available on Windows, so Mac and Linux users have to wait to play.
Beyond SkypeFind, the release did have some other minor tweaks. There is now a "Chats" menu on the menu bar that gives you easy access to your public and private chats. And the "eye candy" of this release is the cute way Skype finally provided the notification that the other user is typing. Where AIM and MSN/WLM have text that says something like "User-so-and-so is typing...", Skype has a pencil icon that writes... and then in a cute move erases when you are deleting what you wrote. You can see it inthis screen shot (upper right by the woman's picture) from Skype's blog. It also shows up in chat windows (including public chats). It's a cute way to meet and exceed what the other services have had for quite some time.
All in all an interesting evolutionary step for the Skype client... will be interesting to see how successful SkypeFind becomes as the directory becomes populated. Given that Skype accounts are free, the security side of me just sees it as something wide open for abuse... but hopefully for Skype users I am wrong. What do you all think?
P.S. Many thanks to the Skype Journal for continuing to run their public chat which countinues to be a source of great info about Skype...