PayPal announced what it calls the first global payment platform open to outside developers today. The company said it believes the move will make PayPal a bigger business than eBay and help foster a future where online payment capabilities are like electrical outlets - ubiquitous, enabling, financially and technologically fecund. It's an incredibly ambitious vision, but a logical one.
The new Application Programming Interface (API) is due to become available in early November. It will let software developers plug PayPal payment functionality into their systems to leverage the company's transaction, currency and security capabilities. Most interesting to us was the electric outlet analogy.
The company's announcement today began with a slickly produced video showing people making payments for goods using software inside physical shopping carts, refrigerators and televisions. The payments in these as-yet fictional scenes were processed by PayPal, of course. The technical hooks that make up the new API will enable software makers to use PayPal more quickly, easily and in much more sophisticated ways than simple use of a PayPal merchant account allows today.
Osama Bedier, PayPal's VP of Product Development, said at the announcement event that just like electrical outlets facilitated increased consumption of electricity, "a secure global payment system will let the internet reach parts of our lives we can't even imagine." More and different ways of using the internet will be invented once monetization is possible and a profit motive present for those inventions, he argued.
That makes sense. It is a little unnerving to imagine the global system providing that platform being controlled by one company, but fortunately PayPal is following the footsteps of Amazon and its related Flexible Payment System. (See Leena Rao's account for a comparison of the two systems.)
PayPal believes it can grow even more central to the online payment economy. Ina Fried quotes CEO John Donohue at a separate event today as having said "PayPal is a business that will be bigger than eBay."
Electricity is certainly bigger than auctioneering, even if it does lack its own charming patois.
Whether or not PayPal is the company to pull off this grand vision of distributed, global, secure online payments is another question - but the analogy used by Bedier to describe the vision seems like a sound and important one. A trusted, secure, easy, sophisticated online payment system could very well foster a fundamentally different era in online computing by enabling developers to develop in a financially sustainable way.