EBay courts developers to bring in buyers

By , IDG News Service |  Business

EBay Inc. is on a drive to put its brand everywhere people experience the Internet, and it wants outside Web developers to help get it there.

The strategy is a new one for a company that has emphasized its robust e-commerce transaction system in opening itself up to heavy-selling affiliates, and currently gets about a quarter of its listings from big sellers using third-party tools to connect into eBay's backend. Now the online auction giant wants to reach more buyers where they live, and is hoping developers will take advantage of lighter and faster interfaces to carry its flag to the user.

"We need to shift our attention to supporting the buying experience," said Max Mancini, senior director of platform and disruptive innovation at eBay, in an interview at the company's developer conference in Boston this week.

The new APIs (application programming interfaces) don't require authentication to acquire information from eBay and display it within other applications or Web pages, removing a significant obstacle to casual use of eBay listings for their information or entertainment value. The so-called "shopping APIs" are also up to 16 times faster at returning search results, eBay says. The company also released a bidding API that developers can use to allow bidding from other applications and sites, and established support centers for developers working in JavaScript and Flash, popular for interactive, customer-facing sites and applications.

In putting together a suite of tools that will help spread its presence into blogs, social networks and deeper into the Web 2.0 world, eBay is acknowledging what eBay Marketplaces President John Donahoe called "an explosion of easy to use starting points."

In pushing the eBay experience closer to users -- and making it easier for third parties to get information from the marketplace without necessarily engaging in transactions -- is the company risking its relationship with buyers? Donahoe said he isn't worried about that. "It's the opposite of disintermediation, it allows them to engage directly with eBay on their own terms, and in the mode and device they want," he said.

That emphasis on the buy-side can also be seen in the company's recent acquisition of StumbleUpon, which has developed a Web browsing tool that uses user preferences and community ratings to recommend content. "We thought it was a cool technology," said Donahoe in an interview, adding that it fit into eBay's goal of improving the search and find experience. "We want to find ways to have search be more entertaining."

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