EBay to open up merchant tool to developers

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eBay will open a tool used by 700,000 of its merchants to external developers, the next step in an ongoing effort to promote the creation of applications for its online marketplace.

For the first time, eBay will feature third-party applications within Selling Manager, a tool merchants use to manage their eBay listings, the company plans to announce Monday at its annual eBay Developers Conference in Chicago.

“We’re taking our open [application development] platform to the next level,” said Max Mancini, eBay’s senior director of mobile platform and disruptive innovation.

Selling Manager is the most popular tool among eBay merchants, but so far has only featured applications created by the company. However, eBay now recognizes that it can’t extend the tool’s functionality on its own in a way that meets all of its users’ demands and requirements, Mancini said.

By turning Selling Manager into an open platform, eBay believes it will be able to enhance the visibility of third-party applications for the benefit of both the developers who create them and the merchants who adopt them.

The initiative, called Project Echo, is now in a closed, early-stage testing phase, and will open up to public testing at the start of the fourth quarter. A more advanced public beta test is slated for the first quarter and the official launch is planned for mid-2009.

Merchants will be able to browse and search an applications directory for tools and applications that could help them run their eBay business. In addition, eBay will also deliver to them contextually relevant promotions for such tools and applications, based on what the company knows about the merchants.

Mancini offered the hypothetical example of a merchant that sells its 10,000th item, a milestone that could trigger a promotional suggestion for CRM (customer relationship management) applications. “The point is to help sellers scale their business,” he said.

eBay hasn’t yet decided whether developers will have to pay for their applications promoted via the new contextually-relevant suggestion system, as in an advertising program. It’s still early in the rollout of the system and eBay will settle on specifics later based on feedback from developers, Mancini said.

eBay is trying to help external developers market more effectively their applications, by giving them more direct and targeted access to the type of professional seller that typically uses Selling Manager, Mancini said.

“One of the biggest requests from developers is how we can help them to promote and distribute their applications to sellers,” Mancini said.

Developers who participate in Project Echo will also get access to previously unavailable merchant data via new APIs, so that they can enrich their applications with additional functionality, Mancini said.

Meanwhile, PayPal, eBay’s online payment division, will also court external developers next week when it announces a new Developer Central portal, designed to support the creation of applications for PayPal.

“The goal is to help developers be more productive,” said Glenn Lim, PayPal’s General Manager of Alliances and Developer Services.

The PayPal Developer Central portal will debut in July and will contain free business and technical kits, including marketing materials, sample code, training information and discussion forums.

The portal will also feature a directory where merchants can find developers who have been certified by PayPal for building tools and applications for the online payment system.

A preview version of the portal is already up.

In addition to the portal, PayPal will also announce several new APIs and fraud filters, including a Recurring Payments API for building subscription billing into an applications and a Reference Transaction API to ease transactions with repeat customers.

PayPal’s Developer Program, established in 2001, currently has some 35,000 active developers, 300 of which have the PayPal certification. The eBay program, founded in 2000, has about 70,000 developers.

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