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eBay courts developers

eBay has expanded its developer program to include members of a newly formed 'affiliate tier,' significantly broadening its support for builders of third-party applications for the eBay platform, executives told attendees of the annual eBay developers conference last week in New Orleans.

The company also used the conference stage to unveil a new PayPal software development kit for Microsoft's .NET developers, a new online listing of third-party software and services, and a 'Certified Provider Program' to replace its Preferred Solutions Provider program.

The San Jose, Calif.-based operator of the world's largest online marketplace made the announcements last week at its third annual developer conference, which was held just days before its ninth annual user conference, eBay Live. Both events were held in New Orleans.

eBay launched its developer program in 2000 and published its initial set of APIs, but did little to publicize the program for the first year or two. ('We were working out the kinks,' said Jeffrey McManus, eBay's senior manager of developer relations .) The company is now aggressively promoting the program, which seeks to promote third-party development of applications built on Web services standards. The company announced in February that it would support the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) in the spring of 2004.

eBay officials said that they have seen an increase in their developer program membership from the original 260 or so to more than 7,500 today. Those who join the eBay Developers Program have access to the company's API, its SDK offerings and other technical resources.

Although this was eBay's third developer conference, it was the first year the devcon was separated from the users' show as a standalone event. 'This year we wanted to get our developer community together, get them revved up and then throw them to the rest of the eBay Live community,' Randy Ching, eBay's VP of platform solutions, told eADT. 'Those folks are their future customers.'

As a standalone event, the devcon drew more than 500 attendees, according to eBay officials.

The so-called eBay platform is a trading community where tens of millions of people can get together to buy and sell practically anything on a daily basis. 'When you say you have a software platform, you're sort of putting a stake in the ground,' McManus said. 'You're saying, we're going to do this in a way that is going to facilitate third-party innovation. It's a different platform play from, say, Microsoft Windows or Java, in the sense that some of the services you would expect to get would be a little bit different. In the end, I think it's less about providing an API and more about providing a business opportunity.'

Currently, more than 200,000 sellers use apps enabled by the eBay API, according to the company, and about 20% of all eBay listings are driven by sellers using third-party apps; another 20% are from sellers using eBay apps.

The Affiliate Program gives participants access to eBay's API to integrate their businesses with the eBay platform. Affiliate tier members will have access to real-time pricing information, specific product details and bidding times for all of eBay's 25 million listings. They will also be able to integrate product images from eBay into their sites. Affiliates earn commissions for promoting eBay, its categories and listings from their Web sites. Participants in the Affiliate Program must adhere to standards and maintain a certain level of performance to remain in the program, Ching said.

Among the other announcements at this year's show is the eBay Solutions Directory, a new online listing of software and services (http://solutions.ebay.com ). Designed to provide a one-stop showcase for products being developed by members of the eBay developer program, the new directory currently lists hundreds of third-party applications, said Ching.

'[The directory] is a place on the eBay site where developers can list their applications and where buyers and sellers can find them,' Ching explained. 'At the end of the day, if we don't connect those two groups, we are not going to be successful.'

eBay also launched a 'Certified Provider Program' to replace its Preferred Solutions Provider program. To be certified, vendors must supply eBay with a list of references, including one from a gold Powerseller, and employees of the vendor must pass an exam. Ching said eBay does not look at financials.

Finally, the company's PayPal group introduced a new SDK for the Microsoft ASP.NET, which is designed to enable .NET developers to build e-commerce applications that integrate with the PayPal online payment service. eBay acquired PayPal at the end of 2002.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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