eBay makes bid for revolution in B2B

eBay has got people together like never before and rewritten the rules of personal sales. B2B is next

eBay is holding a developers conference. An auctioneer bringing together a mass of independent software producers doesn't seem even slightly surreal, and that is a measure of how far we've come in the ten years since the company started, but it is nevertheless highly significant. As Google and Amazon before it, eBay sees the Internet not just as a Web to catch customers but as a way of forging effective B2B connections.

These moves mark the maturing of Web services into a genuinely useful, genuinely profitable idea. It also underlines the natural affinity Web services and open source have for each other — in this case, software is the enabler, the mediator, and it makes absolute sense to spread it as far as possible. Without open standards and open software, this would not be possible.

That's not the main reason businesses of all sizes must take note, though. Nor is it eBay's provision of a low-risk, low-cost entrance into international retailing with a shop window and payment mechanism.

The most important lesson of eBay's transition to Web services is that it's an object model in B2B development, showing how lightweight yet powerful technology can link your business model with thousands of others in a mutually beneficial way. Development costs and risks are shared, individual competitive differentiation maintained and the market expanded, thanks to a flexible approach that means in many cases there need be only the lightest pro-forma official relationship between entities.

Expect this to have a catalysing effect, with groups of specialist independent developers cooking up packages for different purposes, as well as other services and products linking in to what will become a significant and diverse marketplace for goods and ideas.

This is the stuff of revolution. Like all true revolutions the end result cannot be easily seen and yet it affects us all. Not all businesses are a natural fit for the idea of creating and nurturing a community of independent developers, but it would be a foolish outfit that refused even to consider the possibility.