RealTime IT News

eBay Gets Into the App Platform Game

eBay is a marketplace for buyers, sellers and ... developers?

Today, the online auction giant officially launched its eBay Selling Manager Applications beta, which aims to entice developers to put their tools in front of the company's legions of merchants.

The eBay Selling Manager provides tools to help sellers manage their listings on the site. But it's getting an overhaul with the new beta, which will Selling Manager on its way to becoming both a developer platform and an application store focusing on seller tools.

Application creators will be able to use the Google Gadget specification as the foundation on which they can build apps within the Selling Manager. And while Selling Manager is currently a fee-based product, it will become free starting this summer -- widening its appeal to users and potentially providing developers with a target market of millions of eBay merchants to whom they can sell their applications.

"Over the course of the last nine months, we've worked with Google on their open gadget specification to make it work as a foundation to build our platform on top of," Kumar Kandaswamy, senior manager for developer platform strategy at eBay, told InternetNews.com. "Today, we're really opening up to developers to make their applications available to sellers this summer."

The eBay Selling Manager Applications beta is a continuation of a project eBay announced last year called Project Echo. The project sought to open up the Selling Manager tool, which to date has only offered eBay's own tools to sellers.

The Selling Manager Applications beta itself is part of eBay's wider developer program effort, which Kandaswamy noted now has 87,000 members building tools with eBay APIs. He added that 28 percent of eBay listings in 2008 went through third-party applications using eBay APIs.

With the latest changes, application developers will get a marketplace of their own for their eBay Selling Manager tools, which the company has said 270,000 sellers are now using.

According to eBay, a developer will be able to include their application in eBay's Selling Manager by first paying a $75 fee for what Kandaswamy explained as helping to fund eBay's "vetting" of the apps, which helps the e-commerce giant ensure the quality of the programs.

"The initial rollout is just the APIs that directly plug into our platform," Kandaswamy said. "We will be looking for input from the developer community to see if additional SDKs or tools are needed."

As for what kind of applications Kandaswamy expects developers to create for Selling Manager, he said he hopes to see ideas around extending eBay to anywhere people are.

"Some of the trends are around mobile app development and the digital living room," Kandaswamy said. "An example of that is eBay on set-top boxes or on the Wii. Those are some of the areas where developers are taking our platform."

For the time being, however, eBay's community of sellers will have to wait to see the fruits of their labors. The Selling Manager Applications beta won't be becoming generally available to eBay sellers until this summer.

Until then, Kandaswamy said the plan with the beta is get the application developers ready with their apps so they'll be prepared for the full-fledged, seller-facing launch.

eBay has been courting developers by way of its developer program since the year 2000. In 2005, it dramatically shifted its model by offering its APIs for free to developers to hook into the eBay platform. It has been actively improving its seller-focused APIs on regular basis, with the bidding API opening up in 2007 and Project Echo (now the Selling Manager Applications) set for general availability this summer.

"It has been a great 8.5 years and a ot of things that we've seen innovated on our platform are things we couldn't have imagined," Kandaswamy said. It's an evolution and closely collaborate with our developer partners."