June 13, 2012 at 3:59 PM ET
It was announced Wednesday that Skype would begin inserting display ads into one-on-one voice conversations on the service. Puzzlingly, despite the near guarantee that users will both dislike and ignore the ads, they are pitched as a feature rather than a necessary evil.
As the announcement puts it:
While on a 1:1 audio call, users will see content that could spark additional topics of conversation that are relevant to Skype users and highlight unique and local brand experiences. So, you should think of Conversation Ads as a way for Skype to generate fun interactivity between your circle of friends and family and the brands you care about. Ultimately, we believe this will help make Skype a more engaging and useful place to have your conversations each and every day.
That or people will migrate to one of the many other free calling services available online and increasingly built into other platforms, such as Facebook and Apple's iOS.
After Microsoft purchased Skype for a massive $8.5 billion in May, 2011, many in the tech community feared what might happen to the well-liked communications tool, but few Microsoft-centric updates have been done over the last year, and the company has focused as before on supporting a multitude of platforms and services. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
This announcement, Skype's first major advertising add-on since the company put banners in the program over a year ago, will likely be met with intense displeasure among users and industry observers. The ads intrude on the actual user experience rather than reside outside it, not unlike pop-ups that vie with Web content for the reader's attention.
At the moment, the ads are only shown in audio conversations, but the announcement does mention "additional commercial experiences in the future." Considering the popularity of video and group calls, it wouldn't be surprising if these "experiences" were to show up there soon as well.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.