Talking Should Be Totally Free

The latest ‘kid’ on the PC-based VoIP/instant messaging block is Mountain View, Calif.-based PeerMe, Inc. The startup, which is already operating in South Korea and India, launched its beta VoIP client in the United States a week ago. Today, it announces a major partnership brand: Ameba PeerMe, in conjunction with the Japanese blog aggregator Ameba.

Unlike some better established, more visible services, such as Skype or Google Talk, PeerMe has no immediate plans to generate revenue through sale of connect time to the PSTN.

“We may do that in the future,” PeerMe founder and CEO Tom Lasater told, “but right now, we’re totally focused on peer-to-peer voice. Our whole idea is that everything is going to peer-to-peer voice in the future, so if we did connect to PSTN, it would just be a very temporary measure.” Lasater doesn’t think the PSTN will disappear any time soon, “but for a very large percentage, you’ll be connected to a high-speed connection from wherever you are, all the time—which will allow you to use peer-to-peer voice anywhere you are,” Lasater said

“You can use PeerMe from any Wi-Fi hotspot, worldwide.” Lasater continued. “As Wi-Fi goes to WiMAX, the range of those hotspots is just going to increase. We’re really looking at what happens when all mobile users have a high-speed Internet connection.”

So, what is PeerMe’s business model? In essence, it is to use voice as a premium to attract users to a series of e-commerce channels. In fact, at its U.S. launch, PeerMe includes the PeerMe Game channel—the first of many, according to the company—where users will be able to evaluate games from a large number of publishers before purchasing. The channel—which leverages technology developed by games-distribution technology vendor Boonty—will offer ring-tones, and other downloadable consumer products.

“We view the voice as a customer aggregation capability,” CEO Lasater told VoIPplanet. “We will sell add-on content to those users. It’s very similar to free e-mail in the early 90s. We believe that talking should be totally free. And that’s why people will use PeerMe—for free voice communication—and we will sell those users other aspects, including access to communities.”

In fact communities seem very basic to PeerMe’s concept. “The first generation of peer-to-peer is just, ‘Oh I can call anyone, anywhere in the world, and talk to them for as long as I want,'” Lasater observed . “We think that the next generation of peer-to-peer voice is going to be ‘How do you find the people that you want to talk with—and then being able to immediately talk to them. Basically voice-enabling the Internet.” Lasater pointed out that, for example, you could voice-enable a classified ad site and use the voice connection to facilitate your shopping. “You could search for Toyota cars in Connecticut, and you could find the ones that are appealing to you, and if the seller is on line you could immediately click to talk to them. That’s a functionality you really can’t have with a phone,” Laseter said

In a less theoretical example, Lasater mentioned the Ameba community, which contains some 400,000 bloggers. ” Right now, we’re just promoting PeerMe to Ameba, but in a month or two we’ll add a PeerMe button that users can put on their blogs,” he said. “If anyone reading their blog wanted to talk to them, they could immediately strike up a conversation with that person. You could also talk to other readers of the blog,” making use of the presence function.

The client (download here) is quick to download over a broadband connection, and easy to install. We were unable to try it out for sound quality—due to firewall configuration issues—but it won’t cost you anything to try it out. For those with aspirations to voice-enable existing Internet-based communities—or to create new ones—this seems like a good bet.

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