Dan and I have been reading all the press releases from the first day of the X.Commerce developers conference. There’s loads of exciting sounding stuff such as eBay launching the world’s first open commerce ecosystem and eBay integrating Facebook Open Graph into their global commerce platforms. eBay have announced that Magento, Milo, RedLaser and Zong are all now included in X.Commerce and Facebook, Adobe, Kenshoo, Outright and CIGNEX Datamatics have all joined X.Commerce. The star of the show is the launch of PayPal Access giving consumers the ability to sign up and sign in to (and buy from!) participating websites with just their PayPal usernames and passwords
We’re a bit bemused though. Whilst all of this is great stuff its not desperately innovative. PayPal Access is way overdue, but basically it just provides everything consumers and merchants need to create an account and complete a transaction. That’s not that different to simply integrating PayPal checkout on your website.
Companies such as OutRight can already collect your financial data and in fact there’s an OutRight app in the eBay.com app centre so that’s not particularly revolutionary either.
So what’s all the fuss about X.Commerce and eBay’s open commerce ecosystem? Why should we care? Well, the truth is (and I may be being a little harsh here), that the best stuff doesn’t actually exist yet – eBay have used companies like Facebook and OutRight (and OutRight is a great company) because they needed something for PR to shout about at the launch of X.Commerce. The really great stuff they can’t shout about, because it hasn’t been built or even conceived of yet.
Companies like Facebook and Apple have shown the way. Facebook is little more than a diary and event sharing site but what makes it a great platform is that they’ve allowed developers to build out a whole load of apps including everything right down to trivial apps like games (Farmville or Mafia Wars anyone?). It’s the third party developers that have made Facebook the success it is today.
Apple are the same, they’ve opened up their platform to allow third party applications to be built and I doubt there’s a single iPhone or iPad user out there that hasn’t downloaded a non-Apple app from iTunes. If the apps weren’t there then the iPhone would have been a failure instead of one of the best ever selling consumer devices. The same is true of Twitter, and dozens of other clever web businesses out there. If truth be told, eBay’s rather late to the party.
eBay and X.Commerce is all about the platform and opening the API (Application Programming Interface) to third party developers. eBay can’t make X.Commerce a success on their own. It’s the innovation of third party developers who will make this happen.
eBay couldn’t run their marketplace without third party developers. Apart from the very smallest eBay sellers I don’t know many businesses operating on eBay who don’t rely on the eBay ecosystem of third party tools to run their business.
X.Commerce is all about doing for Commerce what third party developers have already done for the eBay marketplace, and the good news is that eBay have recognised they can’t do it all themselves. They’ve recognised that external developers are much more creative and collectively have much more time and ingenuity to develop ecommerce apps then eBay ever could.
eBay will succeed in spite of themselves because they’re building a platform to let others succeed. Sometimes I despair of eBay, for instance they’ve just (rightly so) rolled the developer.eBay.com site into X.Commerce. That makes sense as while they may have 3,000 developers at the X.Commerce conference there are 10s of 1000s more developers not attending. They’ve moved the developer blog onto X.Commerce as well but sadly they’ve failed to add an RSS feed. Developers live on RSS, they want the latest updates, especially while eBay are holding the X.Commerce conference with tons of interesting news. They don’t have time to visit a “blog” every day to see if there’s news, they just want it delivered to their RSS reader. eBay really don’t “get” social media or blogs.
Thankfully developers will build apps regardless of eBay’s shortcomings because they’ll innovate and find ways to make money from the apps that they build. Developers will sidestep and bypass eBay’s failings because they’re used to eBay not being great on delivery. eBay have however made the best possible move that they could – They’ve built a platform and they’ve opened that platform up and launched an open commerce ecosystem that is set to explode and revolutionise both online and offline commerce.
eBay can’t be relied upon to fully utilise and exploit their open commerce ecosystem, but sure as eggs are eggs the army of 10s of 1000s of third party developers can and will.