1. The relaunch of developer.paypal.com is long overdue and a terrific improvement. PayPal has never had a developer web site worthy of its promise until today. Part of this has to do with how PayPal and its parent company eBay were organized: a dog’s breakfast of products and ancillary initiatives that suffered from a lack of coordination and were often in direct conflict with each other.
It’s clear that a lot of thought went into not only how the site is organized and presented, but how PayPal talks about its products. No longer must you know whether Website Payments Pro or PayPal Website Payments Standard happens to be the correct choice for you before you proceed; the choices are very clear and are arranged in a manner that reflects the user’s goals, not the platform provider’s branding strategy:
Starting from a business goal (“Try Our Shiny New Blortz 2.0!”) rather than a user goal (“Make Money By Accepting Payments!”) is one of the most common errors I see in any kind of product web site; it’s particularly common to see with developer portals, which often seem to be developed by retooled consumer marketers who are operating out of their depth when addressing a developer audience.
2. This site was not developed in isolation. The new site reflects holistic coordination between the product/marketing side of the business and the people who are in charge of engaging with developers (which, at many platform companies, are frequently two distinct sets of people who don’t always coordinate with each other very well).
Presenting information about developer products in this way will certainly sand down the rough edges with regard to getting new developers on board for PayPal, so I’d expect them to see a benefit from the new site fairly quickly.
The new site has a terrific information architecture and a clean look. There’s even a bit of Twitter DNA in there (they’re using the tremendous Twitter Bootstrap UI library).
3. Federated authentication is an interesting and useful addition. PayPal has adopted federated authentication for its developer site, which means you have a button on developer.paypal.com that logs you in using the same credentials you use on the main paypal.com site. This has a minor immediate benefit for developers, since you no longer have to maintain two PayPal identities — one account where your money lives and another account to access your developer sandbox. But potentially more importantly, it means that PayPal could transform into an authentication provider of its own at some point. This would give any consumer with a PayPal account the ability to log into a web application using PayPal in the same way that we log in using Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn today:
The difference, of course, is that the security regime provided by PayPal would be much greater than other federated authentication providers. As a payment provider, PayPal must adhere to international laws regarding data privacy and security, which would seem to support a higher level of trust for the federated authentication scenario. I’d feel much better sharing my personal information with PayPal than, say, Facebook.
Jeffrey McManus has led developer initiatives for eBay and Yahoo! and has consulted on developer platforms for a number of startups, including Twitter and Twilio. He currently leads Platform Associates, a consultancy that helps online businesses develop and manage platform products, and CodeLesson, which provides instructor-led online training for software developers.