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Software can turn blogs into meetings

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Internet phone-calling software maker Skype has created a way to transform blogs from soapboxes into live, town-hall meetings.

Now, people who have installed the free Skype software can host audio conversations, known as Skypecasts, with up to 100 people at a time.

In addition, San Francisco-based Six Apart is offering the millions of people who have blogs through its TypePad service the ability to publicize their Skypecasts on their blogs. A person visiting the blog can click a link to join the Skypecast.

Experts say the Skypecast service, which is free, melds Internet phone-calling with the current social-networking craze, evidenced by the huge popularity of websites like MySpace. And because a person needs to download Skype to join a Skypecast, the service could grow the company's already market-leading 100 million subscribers.

''It's a new way to reach people," said William Stofega, an analyst with IDC. ''It certainly gives Skype new weight in the marketplace."

Analysts have been expecting Internet phone services to be used in new, nontraditional ways that go beyond serving as a cheap alternative to regular phone calling.

A natural fit might be on retail sites like eBay, which owns Skype. There, people with similar interests could chat about new products.

''Obviously eBay will be one of the people we'll be looking to do that with," said Saul Klein, Skype's vice president of marketing.

To create a Skypecast, a person must visit and register the time their discussion will begin and the subject. The person can register multiple subjects, or ''tags," so that people searching for discussions on a particular topic can find them.

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