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An Inside Look At eBay's Technology 84

Posted by kdawson
from the APIs-for-free dept.
endychavez writes with a CIO Insight profile giving a look inside eBay and its technology platform. The company has 40,000 outside developers working to increase its value and efficiency. From the article: "'They are way ahead of other companies' in terms of supporting developers, says one application builder... 'This a new wave of business,' says [another developer's marketing director]. 'eBay is a supplier, a marketing channel and a competitor. It's a weird arrangement.' ... 'If you can't split it, you can't scale it,' says Eric Billingsley, head of eBay Research Labs. 'We've made ourselves masters of virtualization.' ... eBay is able to publish a new version of its site every two weeks, adding 100,000 lines of code, all while in use."
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An Inside Look At eBay's Technology

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  • by bealzabobs_youruncle (971430) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @09:59AM (#17457978)
    a huge furnace that burns large piles of money, explaining the ever increasing fee structure.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Pope (17780)
      With frequent JavaScript injections that slow the entire site loading and rendering, on Safari at least.
    • by saskboy (600063)
      I guess this answers the question about 40,000 developers at 40,000 keyboards... they give the million monkeys a run for their money.
  • Mr. Lister wasn't bad, but eBay's Turbo Lister is a blight on the history of application programming. While the site is generally well maintained, the support apps leave something to be desired, or they did anyway three years ago when I was still involved in using them. TL was the model of how NOT to design an application, in so many ways. Bloated file sizes, db corruption, copy/paste broken in the WYSIWYG editor. The list could go on and on.

    And Ebay never used to tell customers when it expected to correct
    • So far TL2 is much better than the previous attempts. Unfortunately the site itself has gone to shit with all the powersellers category flooding.
    • by eln (21727)
      3 years ago? They've rewritten the site 78 times since then! They've added 7.8 million lines of code! Get with the program, man!

    • by saskboy (600063)
      Once again, a moderator who doesn't like me, mods the second post in a discussion as "redundant". Brilliant observation - may you burn in meta-mod hell.

      Feedback: Negative - Has poor moderation skills.
  • by arevos (659374) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @10:02AM (#17458020) Homepage

    The result: eBay is able to publish a new version of its site every two weeks, adding 100,000 lines of code, all while in use.

    Why would eBay need to add that quantity of code every fortnight? It doesn't strike me as an indicator of very efficient programming.

    • That means 2.5 lines of code per developer every two weeks!

      Fun and games aside, what's the big deal with upgrading a live site? I write software that builds and packages itself and then deploys it's own code to itself in production while it's running. No issues here...
      • Yes, but do you have millions of people connected while you do that? And do you have millions of database trasnsactions and to-the-second sensitive activities going on while you roll out your code live?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jasonhamilton (673330)
          Just a few thousand people, but it does involve millions of dollars in work for a company in the top 15 of the fortune 500.
          • by owlnation (858981)
            eBay is merely 458th on the 2006 Fortune 500 list. It's not the top performer it would have you believe. It is likely, however, in the top five when it comes to poor customer service.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by simm1701 (835424)
              I think poor is a gross over statement of their service level.

              That their phone number is a closely gaurded secret gives you an inkling to their thoughts on the whole thing.

              And just try to get into their offices to speak to someone!!! I tried once in order to deliver papers I had picked up from the local court - they wouldn't even let me in the building or send someone to the door to take receipt of the papers!! (Richmond upon thames offices, fairly well hidden but I used to walk past them daily on the way t
              • by owlnation (858981)
                Ah, no. Maybe I didn't phrase that well. I completely agree with you. I meant that eBay is most certainly in the bottom 5 of the league of Customer Service. In fact probably the only company in my experience that proves worse customer service is Paypal, owned of course by eBay.
        • by Gr8Apes (679165)
          Considering that it is a JMS multi-tiered app, sure - this is simple to do. That's what decoupling buys you. Try this with EJBs for example, and you're, well, clusterfucked wouldn't begin to describe it.

          Disclaimer: Like all good /.ers, I haven't RTFA for this post, just running on the last bit of info I read on eBay and their structure. However, since I just mentioned I didn't RTFA, I guess I'm not a good /.er!:)
        • One system I wrote and now update and maintain has several thousand simultaneous internal users and typically around 100,000 public users on it at any given moment spread throughout about 95 countries, and it transfers over $100 billion in securities each year. We update it live once a month, and sometimes as often as once a week. I don't have millions of simultaneous users, but the dollar value and associated risk of each transaction is substantially higher.

          The earlier poster is correct -- there isn't anyt
      • It's part of a growing community of some 40,000 independent developers, all building products using eBay's own application programming interfaces, or APIs--the connection points that let a program share data and respond to requests from other software. These applications are tailor-made to work seamlessly with eBay's core computing platform. eBay provides its APIs to the developers for free; its cost is limited to maintaining the code and providing some support resources for the developers.

        This would appear to suggest that these are developers independent of eBay and not employed by them. On the other hand:

        The result: eBay is able to publish a new version of its site every two weeks, adding 100,000 lines of code, all while in use. The system is never taken off-line for upgrades or maintenance.

        It doesn't sound as if the 100,000 lines of code are from the 40,000 independent developers. Creating an application to interface with the eBay API doesn't seem to equate to publishing "a new version of its site". Of course, it's possible that the article has made a mistake.

    • I guess you could go bid on a few thousand lines of code to verify it's efficiency.
    • by 824981 (1008263)
      Whatever ebay is doing it's working. We recently added a listing for advertising space on www.dLook.com.au. The rate at which Google indexed these listings was fantastic to say the least. With 2 days of posting the www.dLook.com.au listing, Google had it indexed on over 30 pages.
  • Have they managed to invent code yet that will actually allow them to insert a new item without it costing them money? Maybe then they'd be able to drop a listing fee for the privilege of serving some a customized HTML page to their visitors.
    • by garcia (6573)
      Have they managed to invent code yet that will actually allow them to insert a new item without it costing them money? Maybe then they'd be able to drop a listing fee for the privilege of serving some a customized HTML page to their visitors.

      Just in time for the rate hikes that are going into effect on January 30th, 2007! Thanks Mr. Cobb!

      An important part of any business strategy is the regular evaluation of pricing structure. From time to time, we make pricing changes to correct unhealthy dynamics in the
    • by sottitron (923868)
      I think what you are talking about is called Yahoo! Auctions and the problem is nobody will see the item you are listing.
    • by i.r.id10t (595143)
      Oh, you mean like gunbroker.com ? No listing fees for simple listings, they make their money on sale prices. No sale, no fee to GB.
  • A++++++++ (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 04, 2007 @10:05AM (#17458062)
    A+++++++ good article, would read again
  • eBay is able to publish a new version of its site every two weeks, adding 100,000 lines of code, all while in use.
    What, no Patch Tuesdays?
  • by R2.0 (532027)
    "eBay is able to publish a new version of its site every two weeks"

    Can someone tell me why this is viewed as a good thing?
    • by Da Fokka (94074)

      Can someone tell me why this is viewed as a good thing?
      Because it allows fast reactions to changes.
  • by NineNine (235196) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @10:13AM (#17458164)
    Do these guys know that you can use stuff like CGI to make dynamic web sites, with databases? With 40,000 developers, and 100,000 lines of code every two weeks, somebody should tell them that they don't have to code each and every single page by hand...
  • by ivan256 (17499) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @10:15AM (#17458186)
    Apologies for the caps and for the swearing, but what the fuck?

    Want to improve eBay's efficiency? Ditch 39,500 of those developers.

    Or by developers do they mean "people who have downloaded the API docs"?
    • by Qzukk (229616) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @01:07PM (#17461332) Journal
      Or by developers do they mean "people who have downloaded the API docs"?

      They're outside developers, so I'm pretty sure thats what they mean.
    • by dipskinny (768437)
      Yes, these are OUTSIDE developers who have downloaded the API docs.
      Some developers, like http://unwiredbuyer.com/ [unwiredbuyer.com], have even built useful buyer-oriented applications. There are a whole bunch of outside developers listed on the eBay website: http://solutions.ebay.com/ [ebay.com]
      • by ivan256 (17499)
        But 95% of them have probably never written a single line of eBay related code. The article speaks of them like they are actively working on eBay's behalf. In reality, most of the them really aren't developers, and the rest are all coding for their own self interest.

        Gee, I wonder why you singled out that particular developer in your post?
        • by dipskinny (768437)
          95% is probably in the ballpark. Still, 5% is 2000 developers working on eBay's behalf (and their own of course), not bad.
          re: unwiredbuyer, I have nothing to do with them. I just remember their name from the O'Reilly/eBay developer contest which was announced at ETech '06.
  • in other ebay news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by asv108 (141455) <<gro.oiduatahp> <ta> <xela>> on Thursday January 04, 2007 @10:18AM (#17458246) Homepage Journal
    Ebay announced a signifigant price increase [imageshack.us]. Since online auctions are a natural monopoly, I guess we will continue to see these types of price increases until people finally get fed up enough to start listing items elsewhere.
    • by saskboy (600063)
      I hadn't heard about the latest fee increase. The trouble is I don't think customers want to yet use other methods for searching for goods, everyone still looks at eBay, even when many of the best sellers have moved on to either their own sites, or other auction pages. It's unfortunate the market giant is so unfair.

      If only eBay valued their customers - the sellers, more than they value a giant PR spin machine.
    • by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @10:43AM (#17458560) Homepage
      I'm not bothered about the price hike, I'll just pass on the cost to the buyer as "shipping"
      • by daveo0331 (469843)
        And because of your higher "shipping costs", your items won't sell for as much money -- basic economics. Of course, Ebay doesn't charge final value fees on shipping costs, so you will in theory save a little money that way.
    • by roman_mir (125474)
      Since online auctions are a natural monopoly, I guess we will continue to see these types of price increases until people finally get fed up enough to start listing items elsewhere. - I don't see what is so 'natural' about EBay's monopoly. Is it that only EBay can allow posting auctions on EBay? Pffft, please, you can have your own auction. With black jack and hookers. In fact forget the auction. And the black jack. Seriously though, it's inflation. As EBay's expenses rise (for example as the salarie
      • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@@@keirstead...org> on Thursday January 04, 2007 @11:47AM (#17459606) Homepage
        A natural monopoly is a monopoly that comes to exist all on it's own, and can usually be predicted far in advance. It will exist even in spite of competition.

        eBay is a natural monopoly because a dominant online auction has a self-reinforcing properties. It's not simple for a buyer to switch to another auction site, because it will not have many listings, so they won't find what they want to buy. And it's not simple for a seller to switch to another site, because no one goes there to buy things (because there are no sellers), so you don't sell anything.

        It's a huge catch-22 situation. These kinds of monopolies usually take drastic change to break - some huge event that will cause a critical mass of buyers and sellers to move to another site. As long as eBays price increases stay small and incremental, it is unlikely this will occur.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by roman_mir (125474)
          Ooh, please. A natural monopoly happens when only a specific firm can survive in the long run in a niche industry, for example when it is only possible to survive in a niche industry due to the scale (like what Canadian bank check storage company Symcor is doing by growing in a declining industry by the means of buying out the smaller firms in this industry.)

          This does not apply to EBay. There are tons and tons and tons of auction sites on line, there are various stores and trading places and billboards.
          • by owlnation (858981)
            Very true. Also add that although eBay's popularity and resources make it powerful, they also make it vulnerable. A company that size - clearly uberbloated with developers, for one - has huge communication chains and responds incredibly slowly to new ideas.

            A small startup with the right idea at the right time can turn on a dime to react to innovation and new markets.

            Google is an obvious example - who would have thought in 1996 that Altavista or Yahoo or Excite or... yeah, can't even remember the names
          • by Profound (50789)
            The most important thing about auctions is competition. Thus:

            for buyers - number of listings
            for sellers - number of buyers

            There are many other eBay knockoffs, some that have had enormous media advertising blitzes and some charge no fees at all, but eBay has continued to be by far the most popular, simply because it is the most popular.

            I guess this breaks down to, eBay is will continue to be the most popular because it is the most popular. I don't see how that cycle will be broken, and I don't think eBay's p
    • I just messaged all my recent buyers and sellers with my email address and told them that I am closing my ebay account. And ask them to do the same and pass on the message.

      The only way to get off the ebay crack is to get everyone else off it too.

      Yea its gonna hurt me, but its better than the alternative.

      And yes I did cancel my account, though ebay has a 180 day wait... Blah.
      Sadly it will cancel my half.com account too, which I actually like.
  • ...and loads of money. Yet last time I looked the site went offline every Friday "for maintenance". Please, ebay, teach us your highly innovative processes!
  • by Lord Grey (463613) * on Thursday January 04, 2007 @10:33AM (#17458420)
    From TFA:
    ... part of a growing community of some 40,000 independent developers, all building products using eBay's own application programming interfaces ...

    In other words, that count represents the total number of people worldwide writing code that interfaces with eBay. That's very different than 40K developers working for eBay.

  • They have a profit of $1B/year and they are worried that their investors are not going to be happy?!

    ----------

    All your Bays are belo... Oh, never mind.

  • Poor priorities (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AnalogDiehard (199128) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @10:55AM (#17458732)
    All those developers, while little is done to combat fraud on ebay.
    • by Soham (772377) *
      Like Auctions, Fraud is also "natural", in the sense that when a system runs mainly on "faith", it s unavoidable. What is impressive about eBay is, that fraud happens on only a fraction of millions of items that are listed at any given time. But we only hear about that fraction, we don't hear about the millions and millions of transactions which have happened flawlesly. I'm willing to bet that the percent of fraudulant transactions on eBay is comparable to that of brick and mortar businesses.
  • Too bad... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crossmr (957846) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @11:01AM (#17458834) Journal
    "'They are way ahead of other companies' in terms of supporting developers, says one application builder... 'This a new wave of business,' says [another developer's marketing director]. 'eBay is a supplier, a marketing channel and a competitor. It's a weird arrangement.'

    Too bad they didn't support the people who buy merchandise through the site that well.
  • Having been a regular eBay user for a while I can't get away from an image of a huge room housing 40,000 loudly screaming chimpanzees banging away at their terminals. Oh, and some dude in the room next door swimming in his Scrooge McDuck style money pit while laughing manically....
  • The company has 40,000 outside developers working to increase its value and efficiency.
    Plus they have maybe 40,000 sellers and users decreasing its value and efficiency by selling counterfeit goods, selling at a low price with ridiculous postages fees, using stolen credit cards and other blatant fraud.
  • someone claimed that Slate.com is able to published 100000 pages within a matter of seconds.
  • Mis-Labelled (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spinlock_1977 (777598) <Spinlock_1977&yahoo,com> on Thursday January 04, 2007 @12:31PM (#17460542) Journal
    If you think this article will tell you what hardware and OS's they're running on you'll be disappointed. It's mostly web 2.0 fluff spared any useful details.
  • I reckon it's like the cottage industry that grew up around I-pods, you're not going to invent the Ipod (or Ebay) so why not just make be-jeweled holders or kickass speakers and skim some revenue off the top?

    Ebays in a win-win sitch as they get site & product expansion without really having to pay for it. I wonder if they own part of the IP at the end of the day.

    I've noticed a similar Open API peripheral strategy with other sites - like FLICKR and even Myspace to a lessor extent. Flickr has a fe
  • They interviewed me a couple months back and despite several emails that included my full sigunature and my full name, they totally flubbed it in the article. My name is Jonathan Field, and somehow they got my name as Jon Athan. Page after page of things like "Athan says this" and "according to Athan's development philosophy".

    Back at the office they made me new "Jon Athan" buisiness cards as a joke.

    Bitches. ;)
  • Hey eBay... How 'bout spending some time to allow me to display listing times in MY time zone? Thanks.
  • I used to work at e-bay. They are masters of NOT VERY MUCH. Their QA support is a shamble. The treatment of employees is delporeable. Their culture is incapable of Human compassion. They berate, intimidate, and exasaberate their collegues into submission. That is how the work gets done.. They say that 1 out of every 10 employees is a millionarre on paper and really dont need to work, but do because they have nothing better to do (stated in their own words), unfortunately that carries over to how they treat
  • Developers! Developers! Developers!!!!! Sorry...... I had to..... :)
  • 100.000 lines a week, 40.000 developers makes it 2.5 lines of code every week (or was it 2 weeks?)

    Hmm... we should all work for Ebay, I can shell out that many lines, provided, those lines are not as long as a whole book.

  • Or does that count include the modified lines of code too? Something is really phishy.

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