France-based Wengo recently launched Wengo Services, a voice services marketplace. Wengo Services allows service providers to set up for-pay VoIP services just like traditional premium rate 1-900 services (known in other countries under other names including 90 and 900 services). Wengo runs a services directory and takes a 30% billing commission, probably not far from what telephone operators charge their 1-900 providers today.
Wengo was originally launched as “an open alternative to Skype” as David Bitton (Wengo CEO), who was also featured at this year’s EuroOSCON, likes to put it. The now renamed WengoPhone is a GPL’ed voice-, video-, and IM-client.
The lack of distribution of WengoPhone seems to be the major challenge of Wengo in establishing a worthwhile customer base for it’s voice service providers. Seemingly to offset this, Wengo last week launched WengoVisio, an interactive Flash-based widget which allows non-Wengo users to connect to WengoPhone users.
However, while the Wengo Services directory interface hints that there is or will be integration with WengoVisio, for-pay services still require the user to download WengoPhone, a hurdle few users will take upon them for a single call. That and tedious sign-up processes could likely kill off any early success.
Despite current shortcomings Wengo’s initiative is still praiseworthy. When eBay bought Skype I speculated that such opportunity was one of the biggest motivations for the acquisition. Yet 15 months later Skype still requires the small-time translator to develop on someone else’s development platform, a development platform not even meant for voice pirates but for the telephone operators of lore.
Yet even if Wengo succeeds in making it easy, and Skype facilitates a peer-to-peer charging model, my bets are that the real success will come from the extraordinary Yahoo! Answers. Adding IM and voice would be a plausible next steps and kick Yahoo! in front in the live search battle which is rolling up (Radar post)
If only she were online, I’d consult Wengo’s Haitian clairvoyant to know.