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eBay: Better Code For Open Source

SAN JOSE -- Online marketplace eBay kicked off its fourth annual developers conference on Tuesday by opening its arms to the open source development process.

The eBay Community Codebase includes a new online forum where developers can hook up for projects. It's free to members of the eBay Developers Program and the PayPal Developer Network.

In his keynote presentation, Greg Isaacs, director of the eBay developers program, promised more timely releases for software development kits (SDKs), acknowledging that in the past, it might take several quarters for a new feature to become available for the SDK. From now on, eBay will maintain two-week SDK release cycles with stable patches every six weeks. The SDKs also will be open-source.

"Some of our developers have been asking to contribute code and fixes back to the SDKs," Isaacs said, "and we'll give them the opportunity to do that."

The company seeded the program with code for a Firefox My eBay Toolbar, five payment scripts for integrating PayPal, an Eclipse plug-in, a tool to analyze PayPal payment data within Excel, and a sample application for searching and buying on eBay via the TiVo personal video recorder.

"We built it and haven't commercialized it," said Dave Nielsen, technical evangelist for the PayPal developers network. "We'd love nothing more than for developers to work on this and build it out and sell it."

The TiVo application is part of an eBay initiative to bring both eBay sales and PayPal payments to other devices, Nielsen said. EBay hopes to move into cable TV set-top boxes and digital video recorders, as well as mobile phones, perhaps in next year.

Already, Time Warner Cable and BIAP Systems have a market trial of BIAP's technology to let 50,000 consumers access eBay from cable TV. The trial, launched May 19 in Austin, Tex., lets digital cable subscribers submit bids and check the status of their accounts from any channel. They also can get alerts notifying them if they've won or been outbid.

Dan Manack, BIAP's executive vice president, said cable operators could use the service to differentiate themselves and encourage customers to upgrade to digital cable. BIAP earns revenue for its work through the eBay affiliate program, getting a fee for every transaction it sends to eBay; Manack wouldn't comment on whether BIAP shares that revenue with the cable operator.

Eran Shay, founder of Miami-based Zovine, prowled the show looking for partners -- or maybe a buyer. He built Zovine Messenger, an IM application integrated with PayPal that lets users offer digital files for sale via attachments to their profiles. In the past year he's gained 10,000 users in 30 countries. He said reliance on PayPal is a worry, because when it goes down, his business comes to a stop.

In a move that won loud cheers from the keynote audience, Nielsen said the company would immediately eliminate the $100 fee for developers in the individual tier, upping the amount of free Web services calls to the eBay API from 50 a day to 10,000 per month.

The fee cut is a critical step to woo developers, said Sandra Carrico, engineering director of online shopping site DealCloset, who released Auction Search Alerting Service, which consolidates auction shopping across Overstock.com and eBay.

"It's always good to get more developers out there and that's what this will do. Small developers work on too narrow a margin to pay fees on the speculation that they might make money." Carrico said many other companies, including Amazon.com and Overstock.com, offer free access to APIs.

Till Schadde, CEO of Equinux, a software developer with offices in Munich and Lexington, Mass., said eBay is looking to developers for growth. "EBay is seeing they need to make the market a little wider and find new markets, so they're really opened up the API to software manufacturers." Equinux makes applications for the Macintosh, including iSale, an app that provides a graphical drag-and-drop interface for eBay listings.

Alexander Dorner, Equinux director of software development, said that API calls can be a big issue for smaller developers. "This keeps a lot of developers out of the market," he said. "If you have a power seller who needs a thousand calls a day, you have to pay eBay for the calls." He said the increase would help a bit, but he doubted how much true open source developers would be interested in eBay projects, because they would be responsible for monitoring and paying for the API calls.

EBay's Isaacs acknowledged that developers of a successful open source project might have to upgrade to the commercial tier, which allows more Web services calls for an annual fee starting at $500. But he said the open source program was a response to demand. "The feedback from developers was that they wanted to collaborate," Isaacs said.

Tuesday's announcements didn't change the view for Thomas Ko, a software developer for Toronto-based Truition, a provider of enterprise-level e-commerce applications.

"It's more for the smaller-sized developers, more community based. We're high enterprise providers, so it's not a big deal." Regarding the open source development offering, Ko reserved judgment, saying only, "It's definitely good to see a big-name provider going that route."

During the keynote presentation, Isaacs said the company had upgraded its "Sandbox" testing environment, adding application servers and a clustered database to achieve 98 percent availability in the first quarter of 2005. "We're not happy with that," he said, and the company will continue to work to improve availability.

EBay is moving toward a standardized schema for Web services. It will maintain support for both SOAP and XML, Isaacs said, but the XML schemas will be based on the standard SOAP schema. XML developers will have to migrate to the new schema by June 1 2006. In the meantime, the company is working to speed the addition of Web services support in its software developers kits.



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