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May 20, 2005 / jnolen

Turning developers on to your Open platform

O'Reilly's Radar (I still love that name) has a great post about attracting developers to your platform. It was a follow up to this piece on launching an Open API, which is equally insightful.

All too often the company is so tied up in its existing business that its idea of an "open API" is 10 hits/day, strictly non-commercial use, SOAP-only, with fax-in paperwork only downloadable with the latest version of IE on Windows. They're looking at the API purely from the point of view of the provider. But if you want me to use this API, you'd better start thinking about it from my side: I want something that's easy to start using and that will scale with the coolness of the apps I build.

Damn right. Having recently tried to use eBay's developer program, I can tell you how important ease-of-use is. In this case, I spent a hour filling out various forms and waiting for emails and clicking confirmation links, only to figure out that I couldn't even attempt what I wanted to do because that feature wasn't supported in the Developer Sandbox. Most frustrating.

I appreciate that eBay is trying. And I'm grateful that they're willing to partner with outside developers. But they've clearly missed the boat on making it easy for casual developers to jump in and do something cool.

My goal is to see something interesting with an afternoon's work. Your job is to make your dev program and API easy enough for that to happen.


  1. Adam Trachtenberg / May 21 2005 1:51 am

    I’m glad that you’re excited about the eBay Developers Program. I’m sorry to hear that it took you so much time to navigate through the sign-up process.
    I’m working on streamlining it further, but believe it or not, this is an “express sign up” compared to the original one. We managed to beat back the lawyers a bit last time, so there are fewer boxes to click. Now I want to remove the whole cumbersome process of checking your e-mail that points you at a form to retrieve your keys.
    Now, as to your project, what are you trying to do? The Sandbox is a pretty good replica of Production, but there are a few missing pieces. However, most of them are around the edges, so I’m surprised to hear you’re running into issues, and maybe I can talk to our Sandbox team to see if they can implement it.
    I already feel we do a good job on providing an open platform — we’re not SOAP-only, we open up almost all the parts of eBay, and we do allow you to scale. But now I want to get more casual developers involved, so I want any feedback you have about how I can make it better.

  2. Jonathan Nolen / May 21 2005 10:54 pm

    Wow. Talk about service : ).
    I was looking into doing some comparative pricing stuff, so I wanted to do some simple searching on the to see if I could get useful information back. My plan was to make REST queries so I could see if my ideas were even feasible before writing any code. But it was only after I had gone through all the hassle of getting validated to use the sandbox (developer account, tokens, regular account, etc) that I found out that the sandbox doesn’t appear to support REST. That’s when I ran out of time and gave up for the day.
    I don’t fault eBay for its openness at all. I’m sorry if it sounded like I did. It’s much more an ease-of-use thing.
    There is clearly a lot of information in the eBay developer site, but I don’t feel that it’s very easy to figure out what to do. You really need a “Get Started Here” page to walk a new person through the process of getting all the different authentications one needs and then making a first successful query.
    Making sure that a dev has a good experience on his first try would go a long way toward motivating people to stay involved. Right now it feels more like you’ve thrown a 500-page manual at me and said “go for it!” and the rest is all up to me.

  3. Adam Trachtenberg / May 22 2005 8:47 pm

    Actually, we’ve thrown a 1100-page manual at you, so I see what you’re saying. We used to have a “Quick Start” guide, but it wasn’t very good. There is a much better “Getting Started” section in the manual, but we don’t do a very good job of pointing new developers at it. I’ll try and call that out.
    The good news is that, as of a month ago, the Sandbox does support REST. Even better, one of our technical writers, Alan Lewis, wrote up a short Sandbox REST Introduction on his blog.
    That should definitely be enough to get you started, but if you run into any other questions, please post them in our Developer Forums. We have a team of people who help out with answers and support, in addition to our community of developers.

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