The Republican candidates for president gathered in Las Vegas for their fifth debate Tuesday, and CNN's Reality Check team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test. The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN selected key statements and rated them: True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It's Complicated.
Slack Technologies, a Silicon Valley darling that's raised more than $300 million, wants to give some of that money back. The startup, which runs a popular corporate chat service, is forming an $80 million venture fund to invest in other startups.
Today is a big day for team communication app Slack — the company is releasing an App Directory for easily discovering third-party tools that plug into Slack. But Slack is also gaining a powerful new open-source framework called Botkit that makes it very easy for developers to build their own bots.
The early-stage startup Howdy.ai developed Botkit, with plenty of input from Slack itself. Indeed, the tool syncs up nicely with Slack’s web application programming interface (API), the Add to Slack button, and incoming and outgoing webhooks.
“Our dream, and certainly we share with Slack, is that there’s going to be thousands of bots out there operating in different ways and that people will have their own personal armies of bots,” Howdy cofounder and chief executive Ben Brown told VentureBeat in an interview.
But with Botkit, there’s now a package of Slack-approved open-source software that lets pretty much anyone get a bot running. And that means Slack is about to get a whole lot more tools that integrate closely with Slack. As Slack bots become more and more versatile, Slack could become even more distinct from other work chat tools and enterprise social networks.
The software that Howdy.ai is open-sourcing under an MIT license today is fun out of the box. It lets you change the name of the bot, find out its uptime, and change the name it uses to talk to you, among other things. You can program your bot to store data in the database of your choice, rather than the default JSON file store.
But the documentation shows just how much you can customize it. You can program the bot to ask various questions and understand a variety of answers (yes, yea, yup, ya, sure, ok, y, yeah, yah).
One thing Botkit defines in an (artificially!) intelligent way is frequency of its messages.
“Messages sent as part of a conversation are sent no faster than one message per second, which roughly simulates the time it would take for the bot to ‘type’ the message,” Howdy states in Botkit’s documentation.
All this technology should be very welcome to people who have wanted to build their own bots.
“Traditionally, hundreds or thousands of lines of code” would be required to get a bot up and running, Brown said. Now you can just use Botkit’s and focus instead of making the bot into exactly what you want.
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Slack has made its next move in building out its platform. At a major press event in San Francisco today, the company announced that it has launched a third-party App Directory aimed at being the de facto source for its users to find certified integrations.
In an effort to foster its growing ecosystem, Slack has also established an $80 million developer fund, backed Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Index Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Spark Capital, and Social Capital. The goal is to help find the next Slack-first app. Slack and the venture capital firms will provide the money and funded startups will become part of Slack’s distribution network.
These announcements come as Slack revealed it now has 2 million daily active users, a 16 percent jump from October, when the service had 1.7 million users. It also now has 570,000 paid seats, up from 470,000 two months ago.
With the launch of its platform, Slack is showing that there’s a viable ecosystem and that its $2.8 billion valuation is justified. It also comes less than a week after one of its main competitors Atlassian went public and also revealed that its marketplace for third-party app developers raked in $120 million in direct sales. Slack thinks it can do better so the new age enterprise social network wars continue to wage on.
Of course, a motive for encouraging more app integrations is to convert its free users to paid ones. Currently, teams get 10 service integrations, but once you start to pay, you can add as many as you want, along with a slew of other features.
Cataloguing the ‘approved’ apps
There are 150 apps available for users to integrate into their Slack teams, including those that come from companies like Twitter, Dropbox, Trello, and Google Drive. Until today, the current integrations were all lumped together, but now they’re going to be more categorized just like you’d find within the Google Play Store or App Store. With Slack’s App Directory, everything becomes easily centralized for the user which will aid in discovery. It’ll could enable the company to restrict certain apps from being displayed if it doesn’t pass muster.
The Slack App Directory will benefit its millions of users in order to help them find and set up the apps that are needed for work. No longer will you have to scrounge around wondering if an integration exists — just go to the App Directory. It’s worth noting that in there, you’ll find “approved” integrations, which means that particular developers could be receiving special treatment beyond Slack’s standard API, maybe even a more native integration?
Slack tells us that developers have created 4,000 different apps for the platform, but only 150 have been vetted enough to be counted as official integrations. By releasing an App Directory, the company believes this will help avoid an organization problem once more apps get approved.
The move into an App Directory will push Slack into even more direct competition with Atlassian’s HipChat Connect offering, which recently rolled out a new developer API, along with Facebook at Work, and Microsoft’s Yammer.
Building for the app operating system
The current marketplace is flooded with a lot of these “best of breed” cloud applications, which companies are flocking to. However, users will need to log into each of them one-by-one, making it a bit of a complex mess. “All the information is scattered”, Slack’s chief marketing officer Bill Macaitis told VentureBeat recently. “This is where Slack becomes powerful. It’s becoming an operating system.”
Macaitis clearly is an optimist about Slack’s future, but it’s this thinking that has led Slack to launch a dedicated fund to encourage app development for its platform. This isn’t the first time that a company has partnered with venture capital firms to boost its ecosystem though. In April, file management service Box teamed with Bessemer Venture Partners and Emergence Capital on a $40 million pool of money.
The first recipients of Slack’s investment are Small Wins, Howdy, and Awesome, however specific details about the amounts or when funding was provided hasn’t been disclosed. Slack did say that “further capital will be deployed on an ongoing basis to developers worldwide who are creating apps for the workplace.”
To sweeten the proverbial pot, the company has released several changes to its platform, including updates to its APIs, support for AWS Lambda, and support for Botkit, an open source framework that’ll allow developers to build bots and other integrations on Slack. Interestingly, Botkit was started by Howdy.
“We’re deeply committed to supporting a diverse and valuable ecosystem of third-party Apps and making them easy to discover,” explained April Underwood, the company’s head of platform. “With the launch of the Slack Fund and App Directory, we’ll be able to both support developers, and help our customers derive more value from Slack with a universe of Apps that make their work lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive.”
Slack’s evolving platform has moved from simply appealing to developers, but also now holds a place in the hearts of the mainstream worker in a business. These latest additions will show everyone that there’s viability in the platform and that this new way of working is sustainable and Slack has a way to figure it out.
“Bringing together all the great tools you use every day in one place makes lives simpler and creates real improvements in efficiency,” said company Chief Executive and cofounder Stewart Butterfield in a statement. “If we can make our customers’ use of all their existing tools even 2% better, that’s transformational.”
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We knew music streaming service Rdio would be shutting down following Pandora’s acquisition of Rdio last month, but we didn’t know when. Now we know that the service will go offline on December 22.
The company just informed users of the sad news in an email.
“As we announced last month, Rdio is being acquired. As part of the acquisition, the Rdio service will be shutting down worldwide on December 22, 2015 at approximately 5pm PST,” the email states.
The message directs users to the URL rdio.com/farewell, which contains a timeline of your usage, as well as exporting tools. Spotify has its own Rdio-to-Spotify tool, which follows the appearance of the third-party service Rdio2Spotify.
At least something good could come from this — a Pandora that builds on what the core Rdio team has learned about music streaming.
“We’re honored to have connected you with the music you love,” the email states. “And we look forward to bringing great music experiences to even more listeners in the future as part of the Pandora team.”
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A storm that dumped snow on northern Arizona left... . Rudy Alvarez, left, and his neighbor Miguel Ochoa shovel snow off a street after snow fell, covering the area with a few inches in Payson, Ariz., Monday, Dec. 14, 2015.