EBay's crucial app dev project moves forward

EBay is moving ahead with a project to let third-party developers build applications on top of Selling Manager, eBay's tools used by thousands of merchants to manage their businesses on its Web site.

The project, announced last June, has been in a closed pilot, but its doors will swing open on Wednesday for all developers who are interested, eBay will announce at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

EBay will make the third-party applications available to its merchants in the summer, said Kumar Kandaswamy, head of eBay's developer program and platform product, in a phone interview.

Selling Manager is used today by about 700,000 eBay merchants. The project to turn it into a development platform marks the next generation of the eBay developers' program, which has been joined by 87,000 developers who have created 13,000 applications since its launch in 2000, Kandaswamy said.

By making Selling Manager a repository for externally developed applications, eBay hopes to boost developer participation in the eBay platform, while helping merchants more easily discover and access useful applications.

Selling Manager is the most popular tool among eBay merchants, but so far has only featured applications created by the company. Recognizing that it can't extend Selling Manager on its own to meet all of its merchants' requirements, eBay is turning it into an open platform.

Jerad Schempp, CEO of HostedSupport.com, provider of a hosted customer service application for eBay merchants, is confident Selling Manager will take his business to another level.

"Letting our app be accessed directly via the eBay platform is going to be a much better experience for merchants and for us," said Schempp, whose company has been involved in the beta testing of the Selling Manager platform.

HostedSupport.com's eBay application, launched about four years ago, is used by some 3,000 merchants who pay US$19.95 per month for it. "Up until now, the biggest problem we've had in eBay is getting our message to eBay sellers, because eBay doesn't directly promote developers like us directly to the eBay [merchant] community in order to not overload them with messages," Schempp said.

That will change with the opening of Selling Manager, since eBay will actively market and promote the third-party applications included in the platform's directory. "Having that backing from eBay will make things a lot easier for us," said Schempp, whose company has 11 employees.

Natalie Petouhoff, a Forrester analyst, said the project will be particularly beneficial for small merchants that don't have the time nor the resources to buy packaged software and integrate it with the eBay platform. They will now have access to business-management applications that have been integrated with the eBay marketplace.

Likewise, developers will get the opportunity to increase their customer base exponentially, thanks to the increased visibility their applications will get within Selling Manager, she said.

"EBay is really opening the door for developers and merchants to grow their businesses," Petouhoff said.

EBay will take a cut of application sales on Selling Manager, mostly to cover costs of operation and marketing, Kandaswamy said. In addition, starting in the summer, eBay will stop charging merchants for access to Selling Manager.

Developers will need to meet some requirements to be admitted to the Selling Manager program, whose platform API was based on the Google-backed OpenSocial gadgets specification standard.

Mark Carges, eBay’s chief technology officer and senior vice president of platform, will talk about Selling Manager during his keynote Wednesday at Web 2.0 Expo.

Other news expected at the event includes:

-- IBM will announce that its LotusLive Engage social-networking and collaboration hosted service will become commercially available on Tuesday of next week.

-- Zoho will announce Zoho Chat 2.0, the next version of its instant-messaging product, featuring multiprotocol support so that users can chat with people in the Yahoo, Google, MSN, AIM, ICQ and Jabber-based IM networks.

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