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Greg Isaacs, Director, eBay Developers Program

Greg IsaacsThe relevancy and impact of eBay after 10 years on the scene is still being felt. At the heart of its growth is its Developer Program, which enables third parties to create and profit from applications that tap into eBay's vast marketplace.

Recently, eBay made the program and its coveted APIs available, creating a shift for the company and countless numbers of developers new and old.

At the helm of eBay's developer initiatives is Greg Isaacs, director of the eBay Developers Program. Internetnews.com recently had the opportunity to chat with Isaacs about the new free API, its prospects, open source and the future of eBay.

Q: Do you expect that regular eBay affiliates will also now benefit from the free API?

That's actually started to happen. One of the things we've been doing the last six months or so for affiliates is removing the cost barriers to them. A large majority of our most productive and successful affiliates actually do use our API.

We'd like to take the model where you don't have to click on the item anymore and get redirected back to eBay, but you can actually bid on the item directly from the affiliate. That creates in my mind a real paradigm shift of how people will transact with the eBay marketplace without ever actually physically having to go to eBay.com.

Today on the seller side, a lot of our most efficient sellers can run their entire eBay businesses by using third-party applications without having to visit eBay.

That's actually by design why we spend so much time and effort having all these APIs because we want sellers to be efficient and we don't want to get in the way of their processes. So by giving them as many APIs as possible, it allows them to manage their business very efficiently.

Q: Do you expect to see more usage, traction or growth in the open source community in the form of third-party open source apps that make use of the newly freed eBay APIs?

We actually do expect that, and that's one of the reasons why we're helping to motivate developers around the coding challenge that we're having. We wanted to specifically have an open source category so developers could work on projects together.

Codebase.ebay.com is our open source code repository, powered by CollabNet, but it's eBay-branded. Today we have about 15 projects that are open source in nature. So developers can go into Codebase, and they can check in projects they can work on with other developers. We fully support developers doing that and that's one of the many reasons why we're removing fees –- to harness the collective intelligence of the open source community.

Obviously there are brilliant [open source] developers and there are lots of great examples, whether it's Firefox or Linux. We want to make it so that there is an eBay angle here, as well, and that developers are aware of it and can be successful at building open source projects.

Q: Do have any indication of the expected growth rate eBay's API usage will incur now that it's free?

It's actually something we haven't disclosed. If you look historically, today we have 21,000 developers, and that's more than doubled from a year ago. So obviously the fact that we're more open and that we have a pretty attractive economic opportunity for developers, the hope is that the growth rate increases.

Q: Do you expect that the free API will lead to an increase in eBay sniping applications?

Today we will certainly encourage the use of the API for bidding on eBay, but we won't allow sniping through the API.

We've always had a firm belief that orderly bidding through a natural process is a much more satisfying experience than sniping. So while there are certainly applications that allow you to snipe bidding applications, like unwiredbuyer.com, our focus will be on making sure that those applications are bidding-based and not sniping-based.

Q: From a competitive point of view, is there anything about the Amazon API that you would like eBay to take advantage of in its APIs?

They've done a nice job, and certainly we take a look and see what the competition is doing. There is nothing specifically about what Amazon is doing that we necessarily want to replicate. I think you can always look at other programs and see what they are doing well and what we should be doing better.

For us the focus has really been on how do you make developers successful and how do you actually give them an economic incentive to be successful. I think if you look not just at Amazon but also at the other programs out there, I encourage you to look at whether a developer can actually commercialize an application or whether it's just for personal use.

For eBay, it has been if you want to commercialize it you can do it, if you want to use it for personal use you can do it, if you want to distribute it as open source you can do that and then how can you make money.

Again for us it's either an affiliate-based model or it's when developers can sell a product. I think if you look at other programs I'm not sure that they've figured out the monetary point of view or at least the commercialized point of view of it.

Q: What's next for the eBay Developers Program?

There are a couple areas of growth. One is around how you enable buyers to search and to buy from beyond the browser. Today we have examples of wireless applications where you can do that. We also have examples where you can be notified on your TV set when it's time to bid.

For those applications, our excitement is around actually making them more pervasive and helping those developers get a foothold in the market.

I think that 2006 and 2007 are really going to be the years where 3G networks and better DVRs will appear where these types of applications can take hold. Creating a new user experience on the buy side, whether you're on the browser or off the browser, is going to be particularly important.

The second one is really around international. So today the U.S. has been leading the way in the Developers Program, and our colleagues in Germany have also done a fabulous job.

But there are other opportunities internationally, whether it's the U.K. or China, where literally given the level of technical talent, building applications can not only be an economic motivator for a lot of these developers, but it can also really change how users experience eBay in the browser or off the browser.