It's adding a new category of developers to its ongoing developers support program; previously, it had been offering the API in a test program to a select group of developers.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 22, 2004

3 Min Read

Just days before its Live member conference opens in New Orleans, eBay Inc. said it's opening up its Web services application programming interface for its online auction selling and buying platform to all comers.

The online auctioneer is adding a new category of developers, dubbed Affiliate Tier, to its ongoing developers support program. Previously, eBay had been offering the API in a pilot program to a select group of application authors.

EBay's API lets custom application developers link to the online auction site through software that deviates from the standard eBay interface, and lets those applications submit items for sale on eBay, view information about listed items, get high bidder data for items being auctioned, and other functions. Such applications are typically aimed at sellers, not buyers, and are often written by or for big sellers such as warehouse liquidators who post merchandise on the site.

Buyers must still head to ebay.com to bid on items; however, because the API doesn't let developers integrate that part of the auction process into their own applications.

"The whole goal is to drive developers to make money around the eBay platform," said Vaughan Smith, eBay's senior director of Internet marketing. "The pilot we ran at the end of last year with some of our top affiliates boosted their eBay productivity about 30% by using the API. For a seller making $5 million in a year on eBay, that's another $1.5 million in their pocket."

Although the Affiliate Tier is open to all developers, eBay will set some thresholds that the newcomers must meet. The thresholds, which eBay executives refused to divulge in detail, will be based on the number of new users that the developer's wares bring to the site or the revenue they generate. "We want to make sure they're committed to the partnership," Smith said.

EBay opened its developers program a little more than a year ago with some 200 developers on board, said Jeffrey McManus, the company's senior manager of platform evangelism. The program now includes more than 7,500 developers.

About 550 applications have been written to work with the eBay platform "to accelerate buying and selling," said McManus. Not surprisingly, the majority of them are written for Windows. The APIs, which are XML-based, can be used within any development environment, McManus said, including J2EE and.Net.

Developer affiliates are a crucial component to eBay's success, argued Smith. On average, they generate $1 million in annual revenue from eBay, with the company getting a slice. Just as important, Smith argued, is their ability to push eBay in new directions.

"They really support the overall vibrancy of the eBay marketplace," he said, "and developers can help us uncover ways to change and innovate."

In other news, on Monday luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. said it has filed suit against eBay for contributing to trademark infringement by letting sellers list counterfeit items on the site.

According to Tiffany, a study of select items on eBay boasting that they were made by the jeweler found that nearly three in four were fakes. The company randomly purchased jewelry claiming to be Tiffany made on eBay and examined the items.

Tiffany filed the lawsuit in a New York federal court Friday, and asked that eBay be banned from listing any phony "Tiffany" merchandise and to provide information on the profits it made from selling bogus jewelry. The jeweler also demanded $1 million in damages for each counterfeit item eBay sold.

The Tiffany lawsuit marks the first time a big name brand has taken eBay to court; in Europe, watchmaker Rolex has pursued similar litigation. That case was decided in eBay's favor, although Rolex is still free to take it to Germany's highest court.

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