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XML Authors: Jnan Dash, Jayaram Krishnaswamy, Jason Bloomberg, Chris Pollach, Peter Silva

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Why investing in API development matters? The eBay story

This week, I listened to a keynote presentation at API World 2018 by Gail Frederick, VP of Developer Ecosystem at eBay. eBay started as an auction website back in 1995, around the same time a book-selling company called Amazon started in Seattle. Here is a short history of how eBay did their internal development.

  • Years 2000-2016: For 10+ years, they used SOAP, XML, etc.with ancient semantics. They had to accommodate many sellers via these protocols to interact with their platform. They also used REST API.
  • Year 2017: eBay released 19 API’s to the public for functions like accounting, inventory, and fulfillment. There were trading API’s to accomplish a trade.

Then she gave five answers to “Why investing in API development matters?”- the title of her talk. Here goes:

  1. Create Opportunity – In the year 2017, eBay did selling via APIs to create 4.2B listings to reach $19B GMB (Gross Merchandise Bought). The same numbers for the first half of 2018 are 2.1B listings and $9.6B GMB. Hence APIs make money for value-added services. The impact of buy APIs is in partner growth (12 live partners in 2017, $70M GMB, 364K transactions growing in first half 2018 to 20+ partners, $85M GMB, and 1.7m transactions). In one year the buy API will enable these numbers to double.
  2. Grow Revenue – there are six key initiatives: product-based shopping experience, selling, new payment experience, distributed commerce, open API, and deployment of AI. APIs for product based experience include things like search catalog, get product details, etc. APIs for selling include Inventory API, Fulfillment API, etc. In the payment systems, eBay will manage the payment now (expanding beyond Paypal). The OpenAPI Initiative (OAI) was created by a consortium of forward-looking industry experts who recognize the immense value of standardizing on how REST APIs are described. As an open governance structure under the Linux Foundation, the OAI is focused on creating, evolving and promoting a vendor-neutral description format.  eBay is a leading participant here. In terms of using AI, eBay is bringing image search API for visual shopping and machine translation API to translate between languages (eg. mandarin to english).
  3. Amplify Reach – Using APIs eBay can reach broader markets, both national and international.
  4. Inspire Innovation – eBay is starting a new award for developers called the Nova award where 3 winners will receive $10k each plus 10 hours of mentoring.
  5. Incubate new business – the purpose is to create economic opportunity for all.

APIs form the connecting glue between modern applications. Nearly every application uses APIs to connect with corporate data sources, third party data services or other applications. Creating an open description format for API services that is vendor neutral, portable and open is critical to accelerating the vision of a truly connected world.

It was fascinating to see how eBay is jumping into the API economy to compete with the likes of Amazon. The conference had presentations from Amazon, Google, IBM, and others as well.

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More Stories By Jnan Dash

Jnan Dash is Senior Advisor at EZShield Inc., Advisor at ScaleDB and Board Member at Compassites Software Solutions. He has lived in Silicon Valley since 1979. Formerly he was the Chief Strategy Officer (Consulting) at Curl Inc., before which he spent ten years at Oracle Corporation and was the Group Vice President, Systems Architecture and Technology till 2002. He was responsible for setting Oracle's core database and application server product directions and interacted with customers worldwide in translating future needs to product plans. Before that he spent 16 years at IBM. He blogs at