EBay Opens Up Just a Little Bit More

Like an aging matron sporting Juicy tracksuits, eBay’s announcement today that it’s partially opening up its developer’s platform by allowing programmers to build their applications directly inside the site is unlikely to change the fact that the auction site is no longer the hot new thing.

The move is reminiscent of ones made earlier this year by social network MySpace as it tries to keep rival Facebook at bay. However, eBay’s efforts are a bit more limited and even less likely to change things for its developers, or its perception with buyers and sellers.

For starters, eBay is only opening up its Selling Manager program, which has 700,000 members. Across its 39 markets, eBay has about 84 million active users. Max Mancini, senior director of platform and disruptive innovation at eBay, said the move to open up the site to developers is in the early stage, but he wouldn’t say how far it would go, nor how revenue might be shared between the company and third-party developers selling their software on the site.

However, he was clear about the fact that eBay is taking these steps to increase the utility of the site for sellers. In addition to having their applications hosted directly on the eBay site, developers who participate in the program will also get access to proprietary APIs that can help them build apps to make life easier for eBay’s power sellers. An example Mancini gave included a way for a seller to determine how much a person usually buys so a seller knows how to prioritize requests for information from that person.

EBay has allowed third-party developers to use its web services platform since 2000. In 2005 it stopped charging developers for access to certain APIs in an attempt to broaden its reach. And last year it released a slew of APIs into the world in the hopes of bringing in ever more traffic from widget and mobile users. In the first quarter of this year, 20 28 percent of eBay’s listings came from third-party tools.

Power sellers tell me that bringing more tools inside the eBay ecosystem isn’t as important to them as making it easier for buyers to find items or other buyer-oriented programs that lead to more people browsing the site. Developers are already making money offering software for power sellers outside of eBay, so bringing those programs onto the site is of questionable value unless eBay is handing over some really good APIs. As a first step in a platform strategy, this isn’t earthshaking, but at least eBay’s not spending billions on a P2P voice startup.