Macromedia introduces publishing tool for eBay

Macromedia Inc. plans to announce Monday a special version of its Contribute Web publishing desktop application designed to automate and simplify the creation and modification of eBay Inc. eBay Stores.

Developed by WebAssist.com Corp., a creator of extensions for Macromedia products, Contribute 3 for eBay is designed to let eBay Store owners create, update and customize their stores' content and design through a visual editing interface designed for non-technical users, said Erik Larson, director of product management at San Francisco-based Macromedia. At eBay Stores, eBay users can feature in an online storefront the products they have for sale at the giant auction site.

WebAssist.com used the eBay API (application programming interface) to create this special version of Contribute. The eBay API lets developers link applications directly with the eBay database through XML. With the eBay API, developers can create eBay applications that feature a custom interface, special functions and operations beyond the regular eBay interface.

Contribute 3 for eBay requires no programming skills and leads users through step-by-step wizards for designing an eBay Store's logos, images, product categories and product search, among other things. The product features about 800 templates for eBay Store pages.

Ken Mullinax, who runs two eBay Stores with his wife from Fort Smith, Arkansas, has been beta-testing the product and finds that it lets him perform certain Web publishing tasks more quickly and to do things he didn't know how to do manually, such as featuring dynamically changing information regarding the status of active bids. "It's very useful, especially for people who don't really know anything about making Web pages or about HTML," he said.

Ultimately, how truly useful this product is for him will be determined by the effect it has on his sales. After testing the product for several weeks, he said it is too early to know. "That's really the bottom line: being able to sell more because of the features in this software," said Mullinax, whose store, Doc of the Bay Auctions (http://stores.ebay.com/Doc-of-the-Bay-Auctions) specializes in leather goods. His wife's store, Sandy's Mid-America Leather-n-More, (http://stores.ebay.com/Sandys-Mid-America-Leather-n-More) also sells leather goods.

One thing Macromedia should fix as soon as possible is matching its color themes with those provided by eBay, Mullinax said. "My store's color theme is green, and the greens they offer (in Contribute 3 for eBay) don't match, so I had to go in after I made the page with their product and manually change all that code. That was a pain in the butt. The same thing with my wife's store," he said.

Mullinax reported the issue to Macromedia and got an e-mail response saying they realized it would be a very good idea to match the color themes of the product with the color themes of eBay Stores, but as of Friday of last week the issue hadn't yet been addressed in the latest beta version, he said. "Other than that, it's fabulous," he said.

An analyst sees the product fulfilling a need for a tool to help eBay Store owners improve the look of their stores.

"This has the potential to be a fairly significant product, because one of the central issues for the eBay Store (owners) is a strong interest in selling products online but a lack of awareness about how Web page design actually works," said Eric Peterson, a Jupiter Research analyst. "What you end up with is lots of things to buy and sell, but poorly presented in the Web pages. The average eBay seller would benefit dramatically from the Contribute product."

Contribute 3 for eBay is slated to ship in mid-November. It will cost US$99 for eBay Store owners and will be available at the Macromedia Online store. It will also be available as a free upgrade for existing Contribute 3 customers as a download from the WebAssist Web site.

WebAssist is developing a similar eBay extension to Macromedia's Dreamweaver, an application for building sophisticated Web sites and online applications. That Dreamweaver extension will be available also in mid-November, directly from WebAssist, for less than $200, a Macromedia spokesman said.

Macromedia will make the Contribute 3 for eBay announcement at its Max 2004 conference in New Orleans.

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