Blurring the Line Between Affiliate and Developer

How can software developers make money through eBay referrals? Take a look at Pluck.
NEW ORLEANS -- It's no surprise that eBay has made spent much recent effort to woo and support third-party application developers. But with tools in place, how exactly does a developer go about making money off eBay?

One company achieving this is Pluck, which offers a free, eponymous Internet Explorer add-on that integrates eBay searching and other features -- and stands as a prime example of ways that third-party programmers can monetize eBay's growing developer tools.

The concept behind the three-month-old Pluck add-on is simple enough: The software integrates common Web functions -- like reading RSS feeds, collecting and sharing bookmarks, searching major search engines, and hunting for products on Amazon and eBay -- into the Internet Explorer interface.

Pluck not only integrates eBay searching into the browser, but it improves on features built into eBay.com, by offering capabilities like Auction Scout, a customized RSS feed that lists continually-running eBay searches.

"You can set up a persistent search that searches eBay and brings back the items you're interested in," said Pluck's chief executive, Dave Panos, during eBay's developer conference in New Orleans last month. "That's the idea of Auction Scout, a customized RSS feed that we built into this version of Pluck."

However, where Pluck shines from a business standpoint is in its integration of eBay's affiliate program. As an affiliate, the company gets paid a commission every time a Pluck user registers for eBay or places a bid through links delivered via the Pluck interface. And with more than 10,000 users already signed up for Pluck, the company's model is proving a success.

"Our tool helps you get more from eBay," Panos said. "We felt there was a really cool opportunity to work with the eBay SDK and API to bring that into a richer client application. [And] you can do more with a richer client application than you can do with a high-volume site like eBay."

Panos said that recent developments enabling developers to take advantage of eBay's affiliate program were responsible for making programs like Pluck a financial success, despite it being available for free download.

"We decided that a free application would remove barriers from users trying it and would leverage some very interesting business models, like affiliate-based programs to generate revenue -- the kind of application that a few years ago would have been a lot harder to support financially," he said. "Now, there's an awful lot understood about things like pay-per-click and affiliate-model revenue streams that can support a company like Pluck."

Panos added that developers can see success through eBay affiliate programs by providing a useful service to the public that traditional affiliates might not be able to.

"A lot of the smaller affiliates drive traffic back to eBay, as opposed to putting tools into the hands of users to use eBay better," he said.

Pluck relies on earlier versions of the eBay SDK, although Panos said that it's likely that the application will integrate more recent improvements.

Panos said that overall, the experience working with eBay made it easy to develop on its platform.

"I've been in a ton of developer programs, and I've always been impressed with eBay's responsiveness to developers," he said. "When I signed up and learned there was a certification process, I thought ... it might slow us down, [since] we were going to market. But, it was painless."

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of eCommerce-Guide.com.

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