eBay's Developer Program - to use eBay phraseology - ain't no level playing field, despite the company's self-image as a hip, Web 2.0 kind of company that believes in collaboration and yes, even open-source (Community Codebase).
Its latest example of "developer collaboration" is the PayPal Developer Challenge. Sounds like a great opportunity - all you have to do is develop a Facebook application that uses PayPal and enter it into the competition before August 10, 2007, to be eligible to win the grand prize of $10,000. Two first-prize winners will receive $5,000, and four second-prize winners will receive $2,500.
But don't plan on your killer app making you a fortune. By entering the contest, you are granting eBay an exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sub-licensable right to make, use, sell, offer to sell, import, export, copy, reproduce, modify, create derivative works from, display, and transmit the patent, copyright, publicity, database rights and any other intellectual property rights entrant has in the Application and the Description ("entry"), in any media now known or hereafter devised (including without limitation, the internet).
Phew. And that's just one line out of a very long paragraph that is part of a 13-part list of Official Rules.
I talked to a PayPal spokesperson, asking, "can you tell me why this doesn't suck for developers, who grant eBay an exclusive license to sell their application?" Here's the gist of the conversation.
Spokesperson: "We want to make sure that the winning entries are able to deliver a safe and reliable experience to Facebook users and to people that are comfortable to with using PayPal already, today. It allows us to host the application to ensure it can scale and meet the demand if downloaded by 30 million Facebook members."
Can PayPal developers create an application like that on their own?
"They can, but the missing element is the motivation. Right now, Facebook doesn't reward developers financially for their contributions to the Facebook community. With PayPal coming out and giving $10,000 to the grand-prize winner and other lesser rewards for runners up, we've heard from our developers this is the right amount and this is a good financial incentive for them to be rewarded for their work."
But going forward, eBay owns it and will develop it and run it?
"I would assume we would want to work with that developer, if they want to iterate on it or improve it. But we want to make sure that the application can scale properly." (He went on to talk about scalability challenges of developers.)
Developers may have questions about patents they hold, ...but my main point, - I'm still left with the feeling that even if I don't have the resources to develop this application, I could still go to eBay and share the idea and get a cut of it.
"And that's absolutely not the intention of this contest. We're hoping to spur more innovation within our developer community that benefits developers, the Facebook community, and or course benefits PayPal as well. There's no ill-intent or anything underlying, with the official rules and the terms and agreements. If you think about it, we have a vested interest in this too, we want to make sure that if applications are out there with our name on them or with our endorsement on there, having been a winner of the contest, we want to make sure they can deliver all the time. If the application were to crash or to have other issues, we want to make sure we can be on hand to lend whatever expertise we can to make sure that that doesn't happen."
Geeksploitation? Or corporate benevolence? Developers, you tell me.