PayPal Announces ‘PayPal Web Services’ — The Whole Space Needs to Mature

Press release:

"PayPal Web Services, currently in beta release, is comprised of four new informational and transactional APIs enabling developers and merchants of all sizes to create ecommerce solutions and applications that integrate with the PayPal platform. This new offering expands PayPal’s existing family of Website Payments functionality and reporting features, and includes PayPal’s popular Instant Payment Notification (IPN) service.
In its initial release, the PayPal Web Services beta provides access to the following four API calls:

  • TransactionSearch: Based on specified search criteria such as payment date or customer name, returns a set of matching transaction IDs and basic transaction details.
  • GetTransactionDetails: For a given transaction, returns all details associated with the transaction, such as customer email address, time of payment, and purchase details.
  • RefundTransaction: For a given transaction, reverses the transaction and issues a refund or partial refund to the purchaser.
  • MassPay: Transfers funds to one or many recipients by providing an automated alternative to cutting paper checks or manually initiating individual payments (available end of second quarter, 2004)."

Paypal had been considering providing a web service interface for a long while, it will be interesting to see how well it takes off and how fast it grows in terms of functionality (live availability ping). It’s good that they don’t adopt the expensive policy of their parent company.
Meanwhile, as I’m starting to do actual work on top of the Amazon Web Services, I’m puzzled by the lack of support for obvious features available on Amazon’s own site (case in point: get other editions of a book based on its ISBN number). Some overlooks might actually be deliberate, I don’t know (disappointed shrug). That you need to join separate affiliate and developer programs for each subsidiary is another burden. I understand each sub might want to lead its own bizdev initiatives and incentive programs, but this could still be done under the same login with consolidated reporting and payment. I presume technical differences between the various sites make it more difficult to offer a single API, but still, isn’t the big industry leader supposed to do the heavy lifting?

Speaking of reporting, it’s a huge missing piece in the broader picture of ecommerce-related, large scale web services. Why, in this day and age, does everyone from Amazon to Google to Paypal to Linkshare insist on making me copy and paste data from a HTML page or download a CSV file? Please notice that Excel has been able to query XML and SQL sources for years, thanks. Keeping track of traffic and sales from these sites is way too much manual hassle. Then you need to merge that data with your internal metrics, possibly from various channels (i.e. web, email) — ugh, this is much too hard for most people to bother except on an occasional ad hoc basis, while this kind of data crunching is most valuable as an ongoing task. We end up with silos of incomplete data that we try to make sense of in our heads.
So Google, Amazon et al, the business case to support my request is that easier tracking delivered to your partners will mean they’ll actually use it on a more diligent basis, leading to experiments and improvements that you’ll benefit from. Even better, ecommerce and online ad players should agree on reporting formats to minimize the work we need to do to reconcile and consolidate data from various resources. Come on, agreeing on a common way to represent a date is not going to betray any proprietary secrets, and it’s the right thing to do to support your channels, since you share many of the same publishers anyway. Help us ditch those data massaging macros away and focus on growing our common business instead.
In other words, you don’t own your channel, you share it with competitors. You can either be an unrealistic moron trying to get all the attention and pissing your partners off, or you can acknowledge reality and work on making everyone’s life easier. The fact is, your partners are not going to spend all their resources to make your program work.
If you’ve been involved in sales and direct marketing (and I presume it’s the same no matter what vertical you work in), you know the tremendous amount of unproductive work you need to go through to make sure everything goes smoothly from booking and order to delivering the goods or campaign, to billing and being paid on time (an order is "real" when its payment has cleared). Lots of phone calls, faxes, and wasted energy. Even leaders in the ecommerce space produce more administrative hassle than they should. Please try harder, if only for your own selfish benefit.
05/04/04 update: AmberPoint Express (perf monitoring, testing and more for web services.)

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