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And finally eBay opens up, offers new APIs

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You know Open Web (the trend formerly known as Web 2.0) has reached a point of maturity, when eBay, the auction giant decides to embrace it ethos. The company at the eBay Developer Conference in Boston announcedthat it has opened up its three core business units – eBay, PayPal and Skype to third party developers, hoping to catch some of the ‘open web’ magic. (This is something we had talked about earlier.)

EBay’s API offerings will give third party developers abilities to conduct searches, bids, alerts and a whole slew of other features from anywhere on the web. (Full list at the end of the post.)

The more interesting APIs however are coming from the PayPal group, which will enable mobile checkout. Similarly, Skype is going to be pushing something called Skype Extras, which are plug-ins written by independent third-party developers that let users expand Skype functionality and enrich their Skype conversations.

EBay’s moves, while welcome, show that the company is feeling the heat and losing ground to more “embrace-and-extend” services. As the web moves away from monolithic entities, eBay stands the risk of losing its core audience to social networks, blogs and other social media destinations.

The company’s decisions also indicate that it cannot be the solitary driver of innovation, and needs to tap into the web collective. EBay developers such as Unwired Buyer, Cooqy, and mpire are proof of what the developers can do for eBay.

eBay APIs announced today:

* eBay Shopping Web Services: a suite of faster, more responsive APIs that makes searching on eBay up to 16 times faster and allows developers to easily create buying applications
* eBay Bidding API: qualified developers can enable bidding on eBay from anywhere
* eBay Client Alerts: lightweight, near real-time alerts about platform activity
* New JavaScript and Flash Developer Centers: making it easier for JavaScript and Flash developers to access the eBay Web Services platform
* New Production Call Plan: access to API calls in the production environment raised from 10,000 per month to 150,000 per month, allowing new developers to rapidly scale up their applications.
* PayPal introduced a new suite of APIs, including Mobile Checkout, which allows developers to integrate any mobile website with the PayPal checkout process.
* PayPal introduced a new Name-Value Pair API that allows developers to integrate PayPal more easily and quickly into Web sites and applications, enhancing online commerce experiences and making PayPal more accessible to Web users everywhere.
* Skype Extras: are plug-ins written by independent third-party developers that let users expand Skype functionality and enrich their Skype conversations.
* announced plans for a re-architected API that will be available in Q3 2007, which will have a new easy-to-use interface, detailed documentation, and tools for faster implementations.

8 Responses to “And finally eBay opens up, offers new APIs”

  1. Did not mean to post-and-run, but I’ve been swamped covering the eBay Developers Conference and eBay Live in Boston. The word I’m continuing to hear from developers is that they are tired of innovating on the eBay platform because eBay takes the best ideas for themselves. eBay Marketplace Research is only one example.

    eBay is using Project San Dimas as an example of what developers can do. But why bother? eBay is already doing it and has the access to users that developers don’t have. (And they have a huge head start with San Dimas.)

    If you want access to eBay users, you better be prepared to pay for it. Ask any user if they know about the Solutions Directory, the only place eBay lists third-party services (you’ll find most people don’t know about it and don’t use it).

    This year’s devcon was a far cry from the Las Vegas spectacle of last year. eBay is clearly pinning their hopes on affiliates. But affiliates don’t care about relationships with buyers and sellers. When eBay changes the rules, as they are wont to do, affiliates will move on to the next opportunity.

    The problem is that developers won’t go on the record about the problems in working with eBay (it’s the same with sellers who rely on eBay for their income).

    Greg previously headed eBay’s Developers Program, I’m not surprised by his stated opinion.

    Matt, Mpire may have a great set of buyer tools and a great rel/ship with eBay, but something failed with the seller tools (how much money was poured into them?). That was my point.

  2. Matt from Mpire here. I would have to echo Greg’s sentiment. We’ve had a fantastic relationship with eBay. Our consumer business is growing very nicely and eBay has been a strong supporter of us. While Mpire started out with seller tools, we went after a bigger opportunity (the $150B e-commerce market). We like to think that we know e-commerce APIs better than anyone and we’ve had nothing but strong support from eBay and as we pivoted the business to the buyer-side.

  3. Ina,

    eBay isn’t oblivious to the fact developers need to make money. eBay has and continues to invest large amounts of resources to helping developers succeed through marketing programs and support. At the end of the day, however, the market for eBay buyer and seller applications is only so big and somewhat crowded. Therefore, not every developer will succeed.


  4. Phil,

    you are right about the slowly opening their platform. I think the bidding, and alerts are new APIs, and I think given how the company thinks, the innovation on the user end of the equation is not such a bad idea.

    I continue to be mildly disappointed in what they are doing (or not doing with Skype) and similarly, quite impressed with PayPal mobile API which I admit is too late, but still a good start since their are no clear winners in the mobile space just yet.

  5. eBay’s rhetoric may be catching up to marketplace of ideas, but I’m not sure much new has happened. The reality check is in headcount and M&A devoted to these projects.

    There’s little that’s pradigmatically new or different in the eBay announcements. They are still tweaking proven services instead of pioneering new ones. Nothing announced will create new multibillion dollar markets.

    They are slowly exposing more of their systems and that’s the right platforming strategy. But they’re only going to get innovation in user experience, not in underlying business capability. More of the same, faster, cheaper, even better in some ways, but not new.

  6. mPire poured their heart and soul (along with time and money) into coming up with a great solution for eBay sellers. They no longer offer seller tools, but rather turned to the buyer-side with ingenuity in the face of adversity. Using them as an example of the success of the eBay Developers Program is puzzling.

    In the past, eBay has seemed oblivious to the fact that its developers need to make money to survive, and that it’s better off with successful developers who feel free to innovate.

  7. No Jeffrey I am not suggesting any of those things – what I am suggesting is that they are finally going whole hog on this, after mucking around for so long and are throwing a lot of resources at it. I should have made it clearer.

  8. Hey Om, unless I’m reading this wrong, you’re suggesting that this is the first time that eBay, PayPal and Skype have released developer products, but in fact all three platforms have actually been available to developers for many years.

    The comparison shopping stuff is new-ish (probably a result of the acquisition) and a bidding API is pretty big — it’s one of the most requested features of eBay’s web service platform. Still, it has existed as a partner-only API for some time.

    Client alerts sound interesting but unless there’s some sort of reliability guarantee (which I’m not seeing) it sounds like it will be similar to something that PayPal has had for a while called instant payment notifications, which are only “instant” on a planet where an instant is defined as 15+ minutes.