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"Web Services Enabled eBay To Become What It Is Today," Says Matt Ackley (Live on SYS-CON.TV)

eBay Keynote: Matt Ackley Opens Web Services Edge 2005 in Boston

"Web services is what enabled eBay to become what it is today," said Matt Ackley, Senior Director of eBay Developers Program, as he opened Web Services Edge 2005 - International Conference & Expo with a tremendously well attended keynote called "Enabling the Level Playing Field" which is now available on SYS-CON.TV (http://sys-con.tv).

In a talk that began with Ackley emphasizing that eBay, which will be ten years old this year, was not an enterprise software application but a platform, he explained how eBay's goal is "to make sellers more efficient so that they can sell more."

A key strategic initiative of eBay, Ackley stressed, is to open up the platform. "People are doing some amazing stuff," he stressed, on top of the eBay platform. "Innovative applications are taking center stage, all enabled by Web services."

eBay started outside the firewall but was dragged kicking and screaming into Web services by its users, said Ackley. This caused eBay to develop the API so as to make it more efficient. eBay sees functionality moving off the browser - there's an API just enabled that would allow wireless bids to be made on eBay - and he imagines for example some kind of Web service that combines RSS feeds with a Web service so that a buyer can identify the top five books of the week, sayh. and then search across all the channels to find the cheapest prices for those books.

View "eBay Keynote" Live on SYS-CON.TV 

"We're going to see a lot more off the browser, off the Web, on the desktop," Ackley declared, before introducing a TiVo/eBay hybrid -"literally, eBay on TiVo" as an example of how the platform will be harnessed in the future.

Once you go away from the eBay platform,do you lose some of the quirkiness that characterizes the  eBay user experience? With 135 million users registered globally -430,000 people in the US for example make their living full time from eBay - what matters most, noted Ackley, is that 25% of every dollar spent online is spent with eBay, and that percentage is growing.

With developers in 68 countries - eBay itself is in 32 countries - there is a huge eBay community, and 42% of all listings come via the eBay API, which allows considerable flexibility - listings can include Flas, for example. The developer program - with 15,000 developers - is an ecosystem, responsible for 1,000 live applications allowing either selling or buying on the platform.

"We see such rapid development by third parties that it's amazing," Ackley enthuses. PayPal was one of the original innovations to come up through the Developer Program, and indeed his own company back in 2000-2001 was the very first company in the program.

View "eBay Keynote" Live on SYS-CON.TV 

eBay has 60,000 different categories so sometimes eBay helps developers develop an application for a particular vertical, many of them harnessing the power of Web services. Ackley introduced an application - called Configurator - that helps buyers configure their own listings.

"It is pretty difficult to develop on eBay," Ackley conceded. "There are many different formats - over ten - that we have to try and open up." In one interesting partnership, Macromedia's front end expertise allows you to create an eBay store, everything integrated into the Macromedia application. 

eBay rolls major functionality every 2 weeks, so insulating third parties from the rapid pace of change is an issue, said Ackley. 

Having been largely successful in encouraging developers to make their applications API-enabled, the next challenge is to encourage third parties to use Web services. "We need to continue to do that and improve," he continued. 

eBay maintains compatibility levels for its APIs and has invested a lot of money in Web services, including for example creating a full replica of the US site - the eBay "sandbox"- so that applications can be tried out by members of the Developer Program.

But communicating the eBay roadmap to its developer community is a challenge. An innovation like "free listing days" requires a heads-up to third parties who will see a huge spike in traffic, but the day that a "free listing day" falls needs to be kept a secret. Challenges like that abound, but eBay is fast at solving them.

What's next?

Open-sourcing some of eBay's tools - the eBay SDKs for example - may have some "very interesting ramifications for the way eBay develops in the future," Ackley said. What would happen if they did it? "We're going to take a closer look at that."

By allowing - for example - PC sellers on eBay to compete against white box giants like Dell, it is the WWW heavyweights like eBay, Google, Amazon.com that are leveling the playing-field.

 

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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