eBay's New X.Commerce Is Getting Some Legs
By Ina Steiner
In the fall of 2011, eBay announced X.commerce, a new, unified developers program for all eBay Inc. properties, including PayPal, Magento, eBay and GSI Commerce. X.Commerce was created with the lofty goal of weaving together all of companies' technology into an ecommerce "fabric" that other companies could plug into - a "commerce operating system" that encompasses online, mobile and offline retail.
As of April, there were 800,000 active members of X.commerce, according to eBay CEO John Donahoe who said the fabric was a few years away. "It's a little lower profile, but I think 2, 3, 4 years out, this will be a very important part of our company, and we're investing in it today," Donahoe told shareholders.
We decided to check in with one vendor working with X.commerce that previously worked with eBay's old developer's program to get an update from a developer's point of view.
Shipwire Order Fulfillment provides cloud-based logistics services, shipping software and outsourced fulfillment services from warehouses around the world. Online sellers send their inventory to one of Shipwire's warehouses in the U.S., Canada, or Europe and instantly connect Shipwire to their online store or marketplace. (Note that eBay is an investor in Shipwire and its Vice President of Corporate Strategy is a board advisor at Shipwire.)
Evan Robinson is co-founder and CTO of Shipwire. We asked him if developing on X.commerce platform was better than developing on eBay Inc.'s individual properties.
Robinson said it was not quite comparable, and had a different goal. "When developing with eBay, PayPal, or Magento APIs, you're primarily concerned with letting your software take advantage of just that one property; you're enabling a single, point-to-point connection between your software and theirs. We've built lots of these ecommerce connections," he explained.
"When developing on the X.commerce fabric, you're building software with the goal of having it work with any provider of a certain kind of service or services (what X.commerce calls a "domain"), without regard for who is providing it."
Robinson said if you're a service provider yourself, "you're building connections to the X.commerce fabric so that your services can be used by any client software - provided of course that the software can also talk to the X.commerce fabric, and is X.commerce domain-aware."
But there's more involved in developing for X.Commerce than for a single API. Robinson explained, "because you're developing in an "agnostic" way, there's a bit more formality to it than if you were just hacking together a single connection a single API, but to X.commerce's credit they are continually delivering tools and documentation to make this more natural of an experience."
The potential appears to be worth it - Robinson said the prospect of truly agnostic ecommerce development is huge for any developer who has spent hours and hours bridging together disparate APIs, only to get to the point where they can sort of talk to each other but not really. He said X.commerce puts forward a common ecommerce language which promises to take away a lot of the recurring pain due to these "impedance mismatches" between APIs.
So is X.commerce more potential than reality right now?
Robinson said early this year, he would have said X.commerce was 100% potential. "The toolkit was very rough around the edges, there was little to nothing published about the target domains (let alone any specs), and the code examples were foundational, not practical. It was really hard to see where X.commerce was going; it looked like a glorified message bus."
But he said as the "greater ecommerce community" got involved to draft XOCL specs, and as the development tools matured, X.commerce started to feel credible - "like it had some legs," he said.
"Today, there are lots of integrations completed or in progress across lots of different ecommerce domains. They've achieved the quorum of participation and tools necessary to make it interesting. The advantage to getting involved now is early interoperability with a lot of other forward-thinking ecommerce service providers."
"Ultimately, he said, "it's about making it easy for customers."
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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