30 September 2005

30.09.05. "Flexcar One," - Do You Need A Ride Mr. Bush?

Editor’s note: This is an important piece in the sustainability toolkit: communications excellence. Much needed to spice up the general dourness, wordiness and moral exhortation which are the general fare in the dimly lit world sustainability café. Let’s keep going.

Do You Need A Ride Mr. Bush?

WASHINGTON--Sept. 30, 2005--In an effort to help White House staff answer the President's call to drive less and carpool and ride public transit more, Flexcar has introduced the first White House shared car. Conveniently located a few hundred yards from the West Wing, in a reserved Flexcar parking spot, the Honda Civic Hybrid -- nicknamed "Flexcar One," in honor of its potential users -- is available for White House staff to use for meetings or other trips. Having on-demand access to a car will allow them to commute to work via transit or carpool yet still have access to a car during the day.

In a letter to the President, Flexcar has offered to provide their first hour of use free of charge, as well as add more cars if needed -- even deploy a Flexcar vehicle on White House grounds, if the White House so requests.

"The President has asked his staff and all Americans to do their part to reduce consumption of fuel and energy," said Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, and now the majority owner of Flexcar. "Flexcar makes it easy for people to ride transit or carpool. With our numerous and convenient locations, you're never more than a few blocks and a click of the mouse away from having access to a car when you need one," Case added.

Members reserve Flexcar vehicles via the Internet or phone for about $8 an hour -- a fee that includes gas, parking and insurance. Studies have shown that Flexcar members drive less, ride transit more and sell or avoid buying a vehicle -- all facts that are in line with the President's directive.

More than 7,000 other area Flexcar members already have on-demand access to more than 120 Flexcar vehicles conveniently located near their offices and homes in the DC metro area. With gas prices topping $3 a gallon, Flexcar has seen a tremendous spike in interest in its program. Flexcar has added nearly 20 new cars to the fleet in the past few weeks, and even more are on the way.

Among the many benefits of Flexcar's program are:

-- Members Don't Pay for Gas, Insurance, Parking: Flexcar rentals include gas, insurance, and a prime parking place. Members pay an hourly usage charge -- usually about $8 an hour -- and that covers everything. Members don't pay a day-long rental rate when they only need a car for a few hours -- they pay only for the trip.

-- A "Green" Choice: Car-sharing is proven to reduce congestion and auto emissions, making it an environmentally-sound choice. Flexcar goes the next step, by offering a fleet that consists largely of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles.

-- Convenient and Hassle-Free: Unlike car rental companies with a handful of locations at often inconvenient airport sites, Flexcar's vehicles are parked near members' offices and homes. And there's no waiting in line at counters to use a vehicle -- members reserve online, go straight to the car, use their personalized Flexcard to unlock the vehicle, and then just drive away.

Since launching the U.S. car-sharing industry in 1998, Flexcar has won numerous awards and commendations for reducing congestion, air pollution and energy use, and increasing use of public transit while contributing to sustainable communities. Research from Flexcar as well as independent entities has clearly shown that car-sharing programs take cars off the road, reduce annual miles traveled and increase the use of public transit. These studies indicate that roughly 60 percent of members have either sold or decided not to purchase a vehicle because of the program, thus removing thousands of vehicles and thousands of tons of emissions from circulation.

More information on Flexcar's DC Metro operation is available at www.flexcar.com or by calling 202-296-1359.

Flexcar founded the U.S. car-sharing industry and now operates car-sharing programs for more than 30,000 members in six metropolitan areas, covering 37 cities in 5 states and the District of Columbia. With flexible pricing plans, members can reserve and drive any of these cars whenever and wherever they need to, without filling out complicated paperwork, paying for insurance, gas or repairs. Flexcar Business Memberships enable companies to augment or replace their fleet with Flexcar vehicles. Flexcar's fleet includes sedans, gas-electric hybrids, and specialty vehicles including pickups, AWD, minivans and convertibles. AOL Founder Steve Case and auto industry legend Lee Iacocca are investors/owners of Flexcar.

19 September 2005

19.09.05. Doors of Perception Report - Quick Scan of Design and Innovation

Editor's note: John Thakara and Doors of Perception. The latest to stretch your mind.

Doors of Perception Report Quick Scan of Design and Innovation

By John Thackara September 11, 2005

ON TIME When we first began to organise the Doors of Perception conference every two years, instead of annually, few among our community seemed to notice. Nobody, at least, complained. This prompts us to ask: Did you notice when this newsletter did not arrive on 1 September? No? We thought not. It's for this reason that we find it more modern to send you Doors of Perception Report when it is ready, rather than on a fixed date. Like the Islamic calendar, it's observational, not computational. Besides, for a near-daily fix, there's always our blog: http://www.doorsofperception.com/

HOW THE ISLAMIC CALENDAR WORKS http://www.math.nus.edu.sg/aslaksen/calendar/Islamic_Calendar.ppt

THE CELLULAR CHURCH I carried two psychological burdens on the tour for my book In The Bubble earlier this year. One was the knowledge that a competitor is published every thirty seconds; every day I was on the road, the ranks of new titles swelled by 2,880. My second burden was awareness that Rick Warren's 'The Purpose Driven Life' sold 500,000 copies a month during its first two years, and is projected to reach 100 million. I found it hard to accept that In The Bubble might not sell so well. Now I know how Rick does it: He has built a 'Cellular Church' that is based on small groups for whom his book is a kind of primer. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in this week's New Yorker (12 September) Rick's small groups 'focus on practical applications of spirituality...not on abstract knowledge, or even on ideas for the sake of ideas themselves'. http://www.newyorker.com/main/magazine/

CELLULAR DOORS About one hour after reading Gladwell's article, I attended a small group meeting of Doors persons in London. I cannot report that we avoided discussions of abstract knowledge, or ideas for the sake of ideas
but we had a good time. Kristi van Riet made a mini-movie. http://www.vanriet.com/blogs/GANGES/archives/001399.html And there are some pictures on Flikr here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/97089260@N00 We're thinking of staging similar meet-and-greet evenings in Helsinki (18 October) and Tokyo (31 December). Details will be announced in this newsletter: http://www.doorsofperception.com/mailinglist/

BRAIN BOXES During a visit to the MIT campus a few weeks ago Doug Sery, my editor at MIT Press, pointed out two large and expensive-looking buildings that were being constructed to house neuroscientists. A generation ago, the glamour building on the block was MediaLab
so I was prompted to ask: What do these neuro guys do all day? Why are they so well-funded? What does their work portend for the rest of us in the medium term? Read more at: http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/brain_boxes.php

DESIGNER HOBOS How 'natural' are natural disasters? Large losses of life, and destruction of homes and infrastructure, are regular features of floods and hurricanes in many parts of the less developed world. The latest, brilliantly-timed issue of Design Philosophy Papers points out that for people, at last, these are not natural disasters at all. They are the outcome of risky forms of settlement by large numbers of people whose choices are limited by history and economic circumstance. The result: More people are made refugees as a result of the changing environment than by war or poltical conflict. In this context, is it time to stop perceiving homeless people as a minority underclass? Might not more of us become bums, hobos, tramps, beggars, street kids, bag ladies, tramps and the like as climate conditions degrade? If that happens, the survivial skills of the despised may become highly valued. http://www.desphilosophy.com/dpp/dpp_journal/journal.html

INFRA IS ALSO SOCIAL Two of the most striking images from New Orleans featured helicopters. In one shot, a helicopter is dropping 15,000 bags of sand onto rushing waters that will obviously wash them away. In the second, the president projects a concerned gaze onto the diaster from a similar height. Engineering to control nature needs a social base and political consensus to be effective and those were missing in New Orleans. Read more at: http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/09/_water_wizards.php

WHERE IT'S AT: THE POLITICS OF MAPS Massive floods in Mumbai and Maharashtra have drawn attention to a crisis of civic infrastructure and public health in India, too. The right of citizens to information about their environments has emerged as an issue of public importance. Very few citizens of India enjoy open access to maps, satellite imagery, and other geographic information. Collected and brokered by national mapping and space imaging agencies, these geo-data are nonetheless essential for understanding civic issues such as planning, housing, infrastructure. The Open Knowledge Foundation is hosting a forum at about Open Access to State-Collected Geo-Spatial Data. http://www.crit.org.in http://www.freemap.in http://www.mappinghacks.com http://www.okfn.org/geo/

LIFELINE DESIGN Many designers in the North want to use their skills to help people affected by such disasters. In Project Lifeline, for example, a multi-disciplinary team has developed a sustainable medical assistance module designed to provid water and help in cases of natural tragedy, war and extreme poverty. Based on a shipping container, the system incorporates solar energy, wind generators, water purification system, water distribution and grey water irrigation. A prototype of the system will be presented at Next2005 in Copenhagen, Nov. 25-26 http://www.next2005.dk/ http://www.project-lifeline.org/

MEASURING WHAT MATTERS Some papers say that rebuilding after Katrina will cost the same as the war in Iraq. In the unlikely event that this much money is forthcoming, what will it be spent on? Before Halliburton starts pouring concrete for new freeways and malls, a moment's pause is in order. A global boom in new indicators is providing us with new criteria against which to make decisions about what we innovate, and how we invest. An International Conference on Gross National Happiness took place in Canada, in June; and in the UK, new ways to measure well-being and life satisfaction -- and the support systems needed to nurture them -- are being discussed in policy circles. http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/modernising_wit.php http://www.neweconomics.org/gen/z_sys_publicationdetail.aspx?pid=193

TOYS FOR THE BOYS? After a few years in which social issues were at least visible on the agenda, tech-push dinosaurs are regaining control of European research policy. For example, a mesmerising shopping list of new 'research infrastructures' has been sent to the the European Commission by a committee of top scientists. These new toys sorry, 'tools' range from an Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) for optical astronomy, to a research icebreaker called Aurora Borealis, and a facility for antiproton and ion research called FAIR. The price tags are fair, too: they range from 'less than 100 million' euros, to one billion-plus. It looks as if the next Information Society Technologies (IST) programme will contain a lot of tech but not much soc. More at: http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/toys_for_the_bo_1.php

MULTIPLATFORM WARFARE What exactly is an 'information society' and do we want to live in one? The European Commission proposes an 80% increase in funding for ICT research focused on areas where Europe has recognised strengths. These apparently include 'cooperative multiplatform warfare', a condition that will feature 'the human control of multiple unmanned aerial vehicles in collaborative missions'. Read more at: http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/cooperative_mul.php

THE INTERNET OF OZ For another view of what might the Internet be like in 2010, Darren Sharp, who some of you met at Doors 8 in Delhi, co-authored of a hefty new Australian report called Smart Internet 2010. The report draws on sound advice from wise souls such as Cory Doctorow and Howard Rheingold. http://www.smartinternet.com.au

PRIVACY AND HUMAN NATURE In a review of "dark scenarios for Ambient Intelligence" (AmI). five threats are identified in a report from a powerful European consortium: Surveillance of users; Spamming; Identity theft; Malicious attacks (on AmI systems); and a cultural condition they describe as 'digital divide'. Tucked away in the references is an impressive and, I think, important text by a philosopher, Ira Singer, called Privacy and Human Nature. Singer writes: 'Increasing manipulativeness, decreasing intimacy, and self-revelation in a dehumanizing context, all sound like substantial harms. But do these apparently trivial intrusions really do such damage?'. His conclusion: yes, they do. Read more at: http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/xray_ayes.php

SOCKS THAT SAW IT ALL An American designer, Natalia Allen, reckons there's an emerging 'fashion tech industry'; and a Canadian artist, Joanna Berzowska, is excited by the potential of what she calls 'soft computation': electronic textiles, responsive clothing as wearable technology, reactive materials and squishy interfaces. Berzowska's talk at next month's Wearable Technologies conference, in Wales, includes a description of 'memory rich garments'. These sound like a mixed blessing: some of my clothes were present at occasions I'd rather they forgot. http://artschool.newport.ac.uk/smartclothes/wearablefutures.html

NOKIA DESIGN CHIEF: TIME TO DISCONNECT? Next year there will be more than two billion mobile phone users in the world. Indeed, the World Bank reckons that 77 percent of the world's population already lives within range of a mobile network. One access accelerator is the way service providers often sell us handsets cheaply because we'll pay far more, later, for the intangible service they enable us to use. Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia's design supremo, thinks now is a good moment to reflect on where we want to go next. "In the rush to connect we have not designed what it means to disconnect, to tune out. How do we design to be sometimes off in a world that is itself always on?" http://ahtisaari.typepad.com/moia/2005/09/blogging_over_l_10.html

DESIGNING HYBRID OBJECTS As we're seeing with mobile phones, objects play new roles in an economy of product-service systems. Designers need new types of knowledge, processes and tools to grapple with such novel product genres. Researchers in product and interaction design, semantics, and human computer interaction will discuss the design and semantics of form and movement at an event in Newcastle, in November. Their focus: how to exploit the combined usage of form, colour and behaviour as a design language. http://www.semantics.id.tue.nl/

IVREA MORPHS I was critical of the recent decision by Telecom Italia to reduce its support for Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, and to merge the organisation with Domus Academy in Milan. Ivrea was just getting intro its stride

  • as its end-of-year show confirmed. Ivrea's director, Gillian Crampton Smith, has now left, but Heather Martin and Neil Churcher have taken over the programme and will guide the last group of students in their final year in Milan. http://www.interaction-ivrea.it/en/news/press/photos/2005/exit/index.asp

    CYCLING 'OSCARS' IN CAPE TOWN Velo Mondial (French for 'Cycle Worldwide') is an international organisation that promotes the use of the bicycle in all aspects of life. The bicycle is the world's cleanest, healthiest, most economical and most efficient form of transport, and Velo Mondial seeks to increase its integration into the economies and lifestyles of countries across the world. Backed by the European Commission, Velo Mondial advises cities on ways to improve their support of cycling, integrate cycling plans into their transport policies, and to implement and monitor action programs. Cycling 'Oscars' will be awarded to cities around the world with the best cycling policies at its Cape Town event in 2006. http://www.velomondial2006.com/

    NEW MEDIA ARE HISTORY Looking for an excuse to head for mountains that are out of reach of floods? A conference at the Banff New Media Institute could be your answer. Refresh! is an international conference on the histories of media art, science and technology from nineteenth century magic lanterns to early experiments with sound, to nanotechnology and biotech today. Keynote speakers include Paris-based theoretician Edmond Couchot; São Paulo-based semiotics professor Lucia Santaella; and Sarat Maharaj from Goldsmiths College, London. The conference is directed by Oliver Grau, director of Immersive Art & Database of Virtual Art, Humboldt University Berlin.September 28 to October 1, The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, Canada http://www.banffcentre.ca/bnmi/events/refresh/

    HOW COOLNESS CORRUPTS Have cultural producers become stooges of property development? A Barcelona-based group, Yproductions, organised the Sant Andreu Free University (SAFU) to discuss the the crisis of a Barcelona that has become "over-branded and over-gentrified". Prices are rising so fast that locals find it hard to continue living there, and "labour precariousness has now become mainstream situation". Coolness, say these critics, is not innocent, when cultural projects act as camouflage for rampant redevelopment. http://www.metamute.com/look/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=1&NrIssue=24&NrSection=5& NrArticle=1521

    TRANS-SIBERIAN MOBICAST If mobility is a new place, then this event is the place to be. Capturing the Moving Mind is a conference on board the Trans-Siberian train. It's about "new forms of movement and control, war and economy, in the current situation". M-cult and Kiasma have organised web documentation of the event as it moves from Helsinki via Moscow and Novosibirsk to Beijing.There is also be a moving radio station on the train. http://www.kiasma.fi/transsiberia/ http://trans-siberianradio.org/

    URBAN PLANNERS IN FUSED SPACE Can new technology improve the quality of public space? On 21 September city and regional policymakers meet in The Hague to discuss whether the ideas raised in last year's Fused Space design competition might be used in real-world planning and development. http://www.stroom.nl/engels/index.html http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/wearable_techno.php

    2-D CITIES A fast-growing acreage of large digital displays pervades public space. Can the mainly commercial use of these screens be broadened to include cultural agendas? Come to think of it, do cultural people have any more right than commercial types to fill up the visual landscape with push media? Urban Screens, organised by Mirjam Struppek, addresses these issues. Struppek has collected an interesting array of images and project profiles at the website; if we all add to the collection, it will become a very useful resource. 23, 24 September, Amsterdam. http://culturebase.org/home/struppek/Homepage/urbanscreens.html

    BUS TOUR OF A WIFI NETWORK Among the speakers lined up by organiser Esme Vos for the first Municipal Wireless Conference are Jonathan Baltuch, founder of a firm which creates economic development blueprints for municipalities; James Farstad, consultant to the city of Minneapolis' citywide wireless project; Greg Richardson, who helps municipalities develop digital communities; and Sascha Meinrath, an expert on Community Wireless Networks (CWNs). I particularly like the offer of a pre-conference "reality bus tour of a wifi network". San Francisco, September 28-29. http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/only_a_month_to.php https://muniwireless.microcast.biz/conference_overview.html

    HEALTH INFORMATION: BLACK HOLE, OR BRIGHT PROSPECT? Billions of euros (the published figure is two, the likely total is 15) are being spent by the UK's National Health Service in a new attempt to digitise and integrate patient medical records. Insiders tell me the latest project is doomed to fail, as did previous attempts, because turf-wars between professionals and managers, in different parts of the country, remain unresolved. In the US, the management of personal health information is perceived to be a better business opportunity. Esther Dyson, who is organising a seminar on the subject, says "health information liquidity is the ability of that information to move around, relatively friction-free, to where it is most useful and relevant: Many of those records can be aggregated (with proper privacy protection) for use in public health, epidemiology and evidence-based medicine of all kinds". http://www.release1-0.com/events/phiindex.cfm

    HEALTHY PROFITS A forthcoming Healthcare Communications Forum in the US steers clear of patient records to concentrate on essentials: invoices for payment. 'Healthcare providers are spending fortunes producing bills and statements that baffle and frustrate most consumers' says the blurb for the seminar. The motto of the Forum's main sponsor, Art Plus Technology, is: 'Financial Documents Are Fun. Financial Documents Are Exciting'. http://home.insightforums.com/insight/HCF2005/session_descr.htm

    INFRA FOR FOOD If we are to re-localise food, a new generation of information systems will be needed as support. Many of today's food systems rely on closed networks in which access to information is controlled by entities (such as supermarkets) that are not keen on cooperatives and localisation. The good news is that open source software for food systems are already emerging. Read more at: http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/infra_for_food.php

    HOW TOOTHS POLLUTE If you are worried about the cost of living, try the cost of dying. The cost of the average cremation in Britain is expected to rise by up to £100 (160 euros) after a government announcement that it wants to halve the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere by crematoria. Read more at: http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/how_tooths_poll.php

    ONLY LOSERS WEAR STRIPED SHIRTS A gift from Brenda Laurel has cost me dear. The eminent design professor at Art Center, in California, sent me a copy of a new report called 'Tweens: Technology, Personal Agency, Engagement'. The book is an intriguing portrait of Californian tweens (ages 11-14): How they think, feel. act, and relate to each other and the world. A knowing 12-year-old is quoted saying that 'only losers wear striped shirts'. So I now have to find a loser to give about seven of mine to. http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2005/08/only_losers_wea.php

    EMUDE IN EINDHOVEN An exhibition about social innovation among creative communities in Europe takes place at the Technical University during Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven (October 17-21). On October 18 Philips Design will host a seminar that will include Ezio Manzini, Stefano Marzano and John Thackara, facilitated by Josephine Green. Details: ange.dunselman@philips.com http://www.weekvanhetontwerp.nl/

    PLEASE DON'T DELUGE DEAL A plaintive request arrives from London: Diana Deal, conferences administrator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, has been 'deluged with emails' about the Critical Debate between Rem Koolhaas and myself on 14 October

  • but it's not Diana's job to sell tickets. For that, please email: bookings.office@vam.ac.uk

    15 September 2005

    15.09.05. Sierra Club announces "Healthy Growth Calculator"

    Editor’s note: This is the latest addition to our list of good sustainability calculators (See links Personal Responsibility on any of our sites.)

    Healthy Growth Calculator

    (Density saves resources & reduces pollution)

    The Sierra Club's Building Healthy Communities Campaign announces its new Healthy Growth Calculator, which shows how density saves resources and reduces pollution -- http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/density/.

    This calculator is intended of offer the big picture perspective to decisions regarding growth. It allows us to explore the consequences of growth decisions, and their fairness to all residents -- including those who can no longer drive, or those who would rather walk or take public transit for some trips. When neighbors come together to plan their community's future, this website can show them some of the benefits of Smart Growth to both their community and their environment.

    The calculator is linked to photos of existing neighborhoods and projects, so the visitor can visualize the density. It calculates land occupied, pavement, water use, likely local shopping and transit service nearby, vehicles owned and parking spaces needed, annual mileage and gasoline consumption, auto costs and resulting auto pollution. I haven't included photos in this email, but some projects are beautiful. Check them out -- http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/density/.

    We would also like to include the building materials used and heating and cooling energy needed, but lack sufficient data to make these analyses. If you have such data, please contact me.

    We also need more great smart growth projects, especially outside California. If you have such, please send me a beautiful digital photo of it, its households/residential acre, ZIP code (used to place the project on the map), parking spaces, and sizes of the housing units (if a project rather than a neighborhood).

    Why This Title -- Healthy Growth Calculator?

    1. Convenient communities, where you can walk to a wealth of markets, restaurants, coffee shops, child care and services, give their residents more healthy physical exercise as a part of everyday living.

    2. Reductions in pavement and sprawl retains more natural areas close to cities -- attracting locals to walk and enjoy nature.

    3. Reducing driving and use of lawn chemicals reduces air and water pollution, increasing the health of natural areas and reducing global warming

    4. Even the local economy is healthier when less money is sent abroad chasing cars, oil, metals and lumber. (Our calculator doesn't estimate construction or operating savings because we don't have sufficient data on residential construction materials and home energy consumption. If you do, please contact us.)

    5. Forests and natural areas are healthier when construction material, heating and cooling energy and gasoline is used more efficiently, reducing oil, mineral and lumber extraction and pollution.

    6. The local economy also benefits when we use our transit, roads, water, sewer, electrical and communications systems efficiently, rather than wasting tax dollars.

    7. Our planet is healthier when global warming gas emissions are reduced.

    For more contact:

    John Holtzclaw, Senior Policy Advisor

    Sierra Club Building Healthy Communities Campaign (stop Sprawl) Building Healthy Communities

    415-977-5534 John.Holtzclaw@SierraClub.org

    http://www.SierraClub.org/sprawl http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/density/ also www.sflcv.org/density

    13 September 2005

    13.09.05. You can never tell where the next good idea is going to come from (Skype, EBay and sustainable development)

    Editor’s note: I want to bring this article from today’s New York Times to your attention with the thought that it shows how technology and society rarely advance in straight lines. And how innovation more often than not comes from off the wings, rather than from the center. As many of you know we here at EcoPlan and The Commons have been using Voice Over IP for several years (the early ones being a bit painful, to be sure) and for the last year have been firmly plugged into Skype for virtually all of our international communications (other than for videoconferencing where after no less than twelve years of extensive daily use our present technology of choice is SightSpeed).

    What’s the point? Well, that I think we will do well in our uphill struggle toward a more sustainable and just society to spend a bit more time looking into the wings to see what might be out there that can help us make a difference. Indeed it has for years been our firm belief here that these internet based tools are one of the most obvious parts of the necessary solution set. And if we think of the Skype progression from jive file-sharing software for trading music (Kazaa) to a long string of lawsuits for theft of intellectual property, and from thence on to a pathetically small backwoods technology startup in of all places Estonia -- all of which within two years have presented to the traditional, huge, entrenched and apparently tone deaf telephone monopolists the challenge of their fat and sweet existence. Hmm. Wow! And now why not for more of the same in the sustainability wars? Are you staring right in front of you for your answers? Or are you looking out there on the wings?

    Betting on future: EBay to buy Skype

    By Ken Belson The New York Times, SEPTEMBER 13, 2005

    NEW YORK EBay said Monday that it had agreed to buy Skype Technologies, the Internet phone provider based in Luxembourg, for about $2.6 billion in cash and stock, a move that the company hopes will bolster trading on its online auction site.

    The total value of the deal may grow based on "potential performance-based" considerations that could be worth an additional $1.5 billion, eBay said. Though revenue is expected to grow to about $200 million, from an estimated $60 million this year, eBay does not expect Skype to turn a profit until the fourth quarter next year.

    EBay's purchase ends months of speculation about which company might buy Skype, which since 2002 has been giving away its software that allows people to talk to each other for free by linking their computers. News Corp., Google and Yahoo were mentioned at one time or another as potential suitors.

    In buying Skype, eBay's executives are making an expensive gamble that giving its 157 million traders a way to talk to each other for free will make it easier for them swap everything from toys to cars. Skype could also help eBay's customers trade real estate, vacations and other services that typically involve more detailed conversations to complete, eBay said.

    "Communications is at the heart of e-commerce and community," said Meg Whitman, chief executive of eBay, which also owns PayPal, the online payment provider. "By combining the two leading e-commerce franchises, eBay and PayPal, with the leader in Internet voice communications, we will create an extraordinarily powerful environment for business on the Net."

    While eBay will acquire Skype's 54 million users in 225 countries and territories, the company said it was not interested in becoming a telecommunications provider or challenging incumbent phone providers.

    Still, with Skype adding 150,000 users a day, the firm represents another threat to established carriers that have expensive phone and data networks.

    In North America, Skype has more users and provides more voice minutes than any other Internet voice communications provider, the companies said.

    About two million Skype customers have signed up for a pay service that allows them to use their computers to make calls to regular phone numbers as well as receive calls from landlines and mobile phones.

    To complete these calls, Skype pays phone companies small per-minute fees.

    Skype's software also offers features that include voice mail, instant messaging, call forwarding and conference calling.

    Only 13 percent of Skype's users, though, are in North America; nearly half are in Europe and another quarter are in Asia.

    With growth at eBay showing some signs of slowing, Whitman said she was not interested in developing a portal that included a variety of products and services, like Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have been doing.

    "I'm a big believer in focusing brands and businesses that are in very large markets," she said by phone from London. EBay is "absolutely not" interested in developing a portal. "You can be sure we're going to focus on e-commerce."

    Last month, Google announced a service similar to Skype's free service called Google Talk, and Microsoft said it was acquiring Teleo, a San Francisco company that allows users to call conventional phones from their PCs.

    Even without a portal, some industry analysts said eBay's purchase of Skype was a sign of how voice calls were increasingly becoming one of many services that companies will provide, not a stand-alone business.

    "This turns the entire telecom industry picture on its head, and demonstrates that voice, presence, text messaging and other IP-based applications will be essential for the company of the future," said Jeff Pulver, the chairman of pulvermedia, which promotes Internet-based phone services.

    EBay shares rose 32 cents to $38.94 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

    Still, some industry analysts were less certain that eBay should have paid so much money for a company with so little revenue and a technology that is being rapidly imitated.

    "Quite frankly, you look at the numbers, and you realize there has to be something more for eBay to buy into," said Carmi Levy, an analyst at the Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ontario. "There's significant risk because the cash is not there now."

    Terence Neilan, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Vikas Bajaj contributed reporting.