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iPhone meets Facebook meets 'all of ecommerce'

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PayPal X Innovate In Facebook-like fashion, PayPal will open its own website to third-party applications as it continues its quest to "power all of ecommerce."

At its inaugural developer conference in San Francisco on Tuesday - PayPal X Innovate 09 - the eBay-owned outfit took the beta tag off its PayPal X developer platform, a set of APIs for tapping its core payment-processing system straight from third-party apps. And as part of the announcement, vice president of platform Osama Bedier said that at some point in the unspecified future, the company would serve up APIs for plugging applications straight into PayPal.com.

The PayPal site gets about 30 million visitors a month, according to Bedier. "It's where people keep their money," he tells The Reg. "They like to go and look at it."

Put your app there, Bedier says, and you've got built-in eyeballs. "If you're building an application for, say, invoicing, and you put it on idoinvoicing.com, you still have to drive traffic there - as opposed to PayPal.com where we're got those 30 million visitors."

He couldn't help but whip out the Facebook analogy. "It's just like when you log-in to Facebook," he says. "You see the stuff Facebook does and the stuff the community does hand-in-hand."

He acknowledges that PayPal.com lacks a Facebookian "news feed," which supposedly spreads apps in no time whatsoever, but he says there are other ways to drive traffic. And the larger point is that these apps will dovetail with their existing PayPal accounts. These aren't apps for just anything. They're apps for payment processing.

According to Bedier, PayPal could distribute apps via an iPhone-like app store - but he won't let go of the Facebook analogy. "It's the App Store model. We'll create an app store when you can search for what you want," he says. "But it's a combination of the [App Store and Facebook models]. On the iPhone, applications don't integrate well. [Our app store] would be different."

Currently, the X platform offers a set of APIs known as "Adaptive Payments," providing various means of processing, yes, payments on the fly. In addition to a core "Send Money" API, this inaugural suite includes APIs for parallel payments, chained payments, pre-approved payments, currency conversion, and more.

The company has also released a limited beta of a second API suite dubbed "Adaptive Accounts" that allows for account creation. "This is a way for you to vet for certain information related to an account," Bedier explains. If you're building a payroll application, he says, these APIs would let you create accounts for users without asking them to set up their own accounts one by one.

The beta is available only to those who attended today's conference.

But the idea is to continue expanding the X platform until, well, it does everything. During his morning keynote, eBay chief John Donahoe said - with a straight face - that he believes PayPal can power "all of ecommerce."

We asked Bedier if this was a really bad idea - i.e. building a monoculture around the world's payment processing - and though he didn't quite see what our objection was, he did acknowledge that the company's dream is, shall we say, not even close to reality. PayPal processed $70bn in payments last year, but as Bedier says, that's pocket change compared to the $30 trillion in total spending from the world's consumers.

But even as the company takes it first steps towards this dream, the question on everyone's lips is "Security?" PayPal's answer is almost as simple as the question. "You can trust us," the company keeps saying. "We've done this a long time."

Bedier declined to provide any details about how the company has enhanced its security model as it opens its payment system to who knows how many developers. "If you say anything publicly, you're potentially giving the bad guys information, so why would you do it?" he tells us. "We've done this really well to date. And that's why we're in a position to be able to say this." ®

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