As it battles competitors like Google and Amazon.com for the hearts and minds of application programmers, eBay this week will hold its biggest annual event for these computer professionals, its 2007 eBay Developers Conference, in Boston.
This year the conference's theme is to "bring eBay anywhere." The focus will be on motivating developers to build applications that extend eBay's e-commerce services to third-party Web sites and new hardware devices.
This emphasis shows that eBay, like other Internet companies, acknowledges it needs to adapt to a new world in which millions of people publish blogs and contribute to Web sites with text, photos and videos.
With people devoting significant portions of their online time to maintaining and reading blogs, uploading and viewing videos, and posting and rating news articles, eBay must take its e-commerce services wherever users gather.
To that end, on Monday eBay will introduce services and tools designed to let developers put eBay functionality in external sites, such as blogs and social networks, and in non-PC devices, like mobile phones and televisions.
eBay, like most other major Internet companies, knows it can benefit greatly from allowing and helping external developers create Web applications and tools that extend and enhance the functionality of its sites and online services.
While it's good for eBay to embrace Web 2.0 trends, such as application mashups and user-generated content, it should also focus on more basic issues that need attention, according to developers and analysts.
"I'm very satisfied with the eBay Developers Program, but there's room for improvement," David Pesta, an eBay developer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said.
For instance, high fees continue to repel sellers from eBay's marketplace, leading them to set up their own stores or migrating to other, less expensive sites, Pesta said.
A developer effort such as the one planned for this week should be combined with fee reductions, Pesta said. "Otherwise I'd have certain doubts about this effort's success," said Pesta, whose Auction Zealot application automates and simplifies eBay seller processes.
There are also occasional kinks in eBay's backend systems. Pesta's pet peeve is when a seller lists a product and it takes several hours for eBay to index its keywords. In that interval, the product fails to show up in eBay search engine results, Pesta said.
This affects users of Auction Zealot and of other seller applications. "This keyword indexing problem is one they need to get worked out," he said.
John Andrews, an industry analyst with Evans Data, praises the eBay Developers Program as the best overall for its breadth, but points out that Google and Microsoft offer better programming tools.
eBay also needs to significantly beef up its developer ranks, because other companies have attracted larger numbers of programmers, he said. The more developers eBay has in its program, the more innovative applications will be created to enhance its online services. "It's important for eBay to grow that developer base," Andrews said.