Blockspring, the Andressen Horowitz-backed ‘do anything with a spreadsheet’ startup, is announcing an integration with Slack that will allow non-coders to make their own Slack bots that can do real work, as part of Slack’s own announcement of enabling their API for adding slash commands.
Blockspring essentially enables any spreadsheet user to pull data feeds from the web into their sheet with zero coding knowledge. Now, excel ninjas are coders in their own right — using the world’s most popular, albeit limited, coding language. Blockspring opens the doors for more traditional software architecture to be sort of ‘added to’ Excel (or Google Sheets), such as layering data feeds on top of one another, and can be easily accessible to the billion-plus spreadsheet users around the world.
So, how does this work with Slack?
“What we realized was a lot of API requests are way too complicated to create all these different Slack bots for,” Blockspring CEO Paul Katsen told me. “Let’s say you want a bot to give you a Google Analytics report, like the number of users hitting your site in the past month. To do that, you’d have to try and have a conversation with a bot that’s trying to be human-like. We realized that doesn’t really work. Rather, people should be creating their own, customized commands through a single bot that can do anything. So rather than having a special Google Analytics bot, you can just tell Blockspring Bot to go get the Google Analytics data (or any other data feed) you want.”
That’s actually pretty cool. Here’s what it looks like.
What Blockspring for Slack essentially does is provide a single bot to bring all of your teams’ services to you, rather than the other way around. And it’s all through one command, “/blockspring.” So as a support agent, you could send a text message to a customer based on their question through a Twilio integration. Or here’s another one: Set up a custom Facebook Insights report retrievable through Slack in less than 60 seconds. Blockspring Bot doesn’t try to understand your natural language like most bots. Rather, it lets you configure what your command will look like and completely customize how it will act.
Blockspring says the average Slack user spends 2 hours a day in active conversations in Slack. It’s nifty you can order your lunch through Slack with a bot (or any other number of cute commands), but that’s not what I’d call a revolutionary productivity gain. But what if you could get web traffic data on your competitors right in Slack while chatting with a teammate? Just hit the “add to Slack” button for whichever API you want to add in the Blockspring console, and you’re on your way.
Using Blockspring, you could even run some of your most common HR and training questions right in Slack. Train your team to ask /blockspring in Slack their questions, and Blockspring can check a source spreadsheet through a simple VLOOKUP function to spit out the answer. That can save some serious time at scale.
Whether or not Slack will fulfill its promise to revolutionize the way we work remains to be seen (and that’s being kind). Integration with real work tools — like Blockspring — and taking any data feed from the web and bringing it right into Slack is a start for that vision to come to life in a tangible way. Maybe that’s even optimistic. But there’s really cool use cases with Blockspring that actually make sense for doing actual work (i.e., not ordering a Lyft through Slack).
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Twitter cofounder and chief executive Jack Dorsey yesterday came to Jesus and apologized to developers. Why? Because there have been mistakes. One after another after another.
If you have forgotten some of these mistakes, don’t worry — I have here a handy list for you.
1. Twitter launches ‘official’ BlackBerry app
Twitter released an app for BlackBerry (remember that?) in April 2010, as a result of a close collaboration with Research in Motion, the company behind BlackBerry. The app was branded with an “official” label, and it used the signature lowercase “t.”
Maybe that doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but there were already a few Twitter apps for BlackBerry, including UberTwitter and Seesmic.
Twitter ended up backtracking and pulling off the “official” part.
Twitter platform head Ryan Sarver wrote in an email to the developer community that “the Blackberry client should never have been labeled ‘official.’ It has since been changed and you won’t see that language used with Twitter clients in the future.”
The “official” tag essentially made other Twitter apps for BlackBerry “unofficial.” In effect, Twitter was pushing third-party developers out of the picture. Hence the rollback.
2. Twitter buys Tweetie
Literally one day after announcing the BlackBerry app, Twitter announced that it had bought Atebits, the company behind the independent Twitter iOS app Tweetie.
“People are looking for an app from Twitter, and they’re not finding one. So, they get confused and give up. It’s important that we optimize for user benefit and create an awesome experience,” Twitter cofounder Ev Williams wrote in the blog post on the news.
Until that point, Twitter had depended on third-party developers to provide mobile tools for users — on iOS there were already apps like Echofon and TweetDeck. Now they had to compete with Twitter, the very source of the data that was populating their apps. (Of course, Twitter went on to buy TweetDeck in 2011.) This is a little like Apple launching native apps to compete with third-party services — think Apple Music and Spotify, or Apple News and Flipboard — or like Amazon Web Services launching a service that’s similar to something its customers offer. It’s just not cool.
3. Twitter freezes Chirp dev conference
Twitter spokesman Sean Garrett told AllThingsD in 2011 that Twitter was “going to do more low-key stuff before we go big again,” following the company’s inaugural 2010 conference.
By doing so, Twitter effectively canceled what could have been an annual party to celebrate its developer community. The drought continued in 2012 and 2013.
Ultimately, Twitter righted itself in this respect: The company held the Flight developer conference in 2014, and yesterday Twitter held Flight for the second time.
4. Twitter gets territorial
In a 2011 message on the Twitter API email list (now deleted), Sarver was the bearer of bad news, as chronicled by IDG:
Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter. More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.
If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service.
5. That time Twitter made a quadrant
It only got worse for Twitter, and Sarver ended up weighing in on specific apps.
— Ryan Sarver (@rsarver) August 16, 2012
— Ryan Sarver (@rsarver) August 16, 2012
6. Twitter announces API rate limits
Twitter vice president of product Michael Sippey announced in a 2012 blog post that, going forward, developers would need permission if their apps “will require more than 100,000 individual user tokens.” Most individual endpoints would only be able to be pinged through the Twitter API 60 times per hour; a handful of popular endpoints could be pinged up to 720 times an hour. But before, the API had a rate limit of 350 calls per hour for any kind of information, so for the most part this meant fewer updates for apps drawing on data from Twitter.
The thing is, this wasn’t so much about limiting Twitter’s server load as it was being more restrictive on data availability. Server load was an issue when rate limits were first instituted at Twitter in 2007.
The 100,000-user limit still irks developers to this day, from bigger apps like Tweetbot to smaller ones.
“As a developer of Twitter clients, I really would like you to ask the folks at Twitter on the record if apps that use their tools get automatically excepted from the Twitter imposed 100K user lifetime limit?” Andrew Donoho, the person behind the Retweever, told me in an email today.
All they will tell me is that it depends. They then offer no acceptance guidance nor will they preflight the process. IOW [in other words], I have to invest and they can say no at the end. Only a fool follows that path.
7. Twitter yanks LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram integrations
LinkedIn officially announced in 2012 that tweets would stop appearing on LinkedIn, forcing people to manually announce updates from within LinkedIn.
Instagram’s API access also got cut off in 2012, three months after Facebook bought Instagram.
And a few weeks after that, you could no longer find Tumblr friends using data from Twitter.
8. Twitter threatens Twitpic
“A few weeks ago Twitter contacted our legal demanding that we abandon our trademark application or risk losing access to their API,” Twitpic founder Noah Everett announced in a blog post in September 2014. “This came as a shock to us since Twitpic has been around since early 2008, and our trademark application has been in the USPTO since 2009.”
But ultimately Twitter took over the Twitpic domain and photo archive.
9. Twitter cuts off Meerkat — and buys Periscope
Oh boy. That happened just a few months ago.
Twitter barely gave official confirmation of the Periscope acquisition.
10. Twitter kills Politwoops
First Twitter stopped allowing API access for the Sunlight Foundation’s Politwoops site, which saved and displayed politicians’ deleted tweets, in the U.S. The ban expanded to other countries in the weeks after that.
Twitter needs developers
Twitter needs developers, most directly because they can make Twitter’s content go further and become more valuable. So it’s not a surprise to see Dorsey come forward with this sort of rhetoric, particularly while his return to the chief executive position at the company is still fresh in people’s minds.
“Somewhere along the line, our relationship with developers got confusing, unpredictable,” as Dorsey put it. “We want to come to you today and apologize for the confusion. We want to reset our relationship and make sure that we’re learning, listening, and that we are rebooting. That’s what today represents.”
The open question is how the apology will be received by its intended audience.
This only works so many times. https://t.co/FvO6QIycbn
— Donnie Berkholz (@dberkholz) October 21, 2015
For more on this subject, here’s Twitter’s argument for why developers should give it a second chance.
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The Internet of Things has been the next big thing for a decade. This year, somewhat surprisingly, it is actually becoming a reality — over a billion wireless IoT devices will be shipped by the end of 2015, according to Deloitte.
Smartifying the world is still a confusing mess of protocols, standards, and platforms. So a small startup with roots in global messaging is launching a device cloud platform to let everything talk, interoperate, send and receive data, and make it easy for developers to build the web of invisible services that will make all our individually dumb devices smarter in aggregate.
“It’s kind of like the early days of the micro-computer when you had Commodore, Sinclair, and Atari,” Golgi cofounder and CTO Brian Kelly told me yesterday. “The real explosion happened when interoperability came along — the PC standard — which was sort of the first hardware standard. What we see is that APIs are wiring everything together.”
The Mountain View, California-based startup released its Programmable Device Cloud Platform today to enable exactly that.
The platform helps developers create APIs for their IoT devices, build custom connectors for any web service, and give their hardware easy ways to connect to data storage, visualizations, notifications … really, any conceivable third-party web service. That will help IoT companies manage devices, deliver data and apps to those devices, collect data from those devices, and build cloud-based systems to connect disparate devices and platforms.
This is something we sorely need in IoT.
Like so many others, the space is a real game of thrones as major incumbents such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Cisco, and Intel, along with challengers like Belkin (WeMo) and others, vie to create platforms and deploy devices that connect through those platforms. And hardly a day passes without a home or consumer IoT device launching on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, generally without connectivity into anything but your phone.
Whatever IoT will be, it can’t be hundreds of separate systems that don’t connect or communicate. Conversely, enabling that connectivity will spur the industry forward, said Kelly.
“As IoT matures, we’ll leverage web APIs and web technologies to wire things together,” he told me. “There will be a change of gear, and things will start to accelerate.”
The Golgi platform will help developers of all those systems define features, generate source code for their devices, and generate and manage interaction points. Embedded devices, according to Golgi, will look and act like web services: They’ll be queryable, configurable, and feedable. In addition, integration points will be created in an API-agnostic way, so that developers are not tied to any particular system or service.
The official release is today, and out of the box the company supports Arduino, Intel Galileo and Edison, Samsung ARTIK, MediaTek Linkit, and GainSpan. While that doesn’t include integrations into Google’s new IoT operating system Brillo, Apple’s still-nascent HomeKit, or other solutions from major brands, Kelly said that’s not the point.
“Our integrations are completely soft,” he said. “A developer is able to define a connector to pretty much any third-party API.”
For example, Amazon does a lot on the server side via its IoT firehose, Kinesis. That has a web API which is straightforward to connect to, said Kelly. In a similar way, Golgi will support anyone who exposes a web API.
What about those who won’t?
“If we’ve learned anything over the last 20 years, you grow more when you expose more,” Kelly said.
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Some very big companies, like Adobe, Oracle, and IBM, are trying to unify the data that will allow companies to easily hit the right customer with the right marketing message on the right device at the right time. And for many marketing people, they’re failing.
The whole idea behind Josh Manion’s Ensighten platform is to provide an “open marketing platform” where its client companies can pull in many different kinds of first- and third-party personalization and targeting data.
The platform also provides a common place from which clients can orchestrate the activities of their many marketing tech and advertising tech vendors, so that creating, launching, personalizing, and optimizing new website experiences and marketing campaigns can be done quickly and easily.
“I think of it as a foundational layer to manage digital marketing in the future,” Manion told VentureBeat in a phone interview Monday. “The challenge I saw in the space was that marketers at large enterprises are unable to affect the change they needed to their mobile and web campaigns using their own platforms.”
That’s a big challenge. Manion believes Ensighten’s open approach is the answer, but he needs some serious fuel, and some reasonable runway length, to deliver the platform on a large scale.
One of the key aspects of the Ensighten platform is providing greater autonomy to its clients. While third parties (like DoubleClick, for example) are allowed to collect user data via cookies dropped in the browsers of web users, Ensighten’s client United Airlines, for example, drops its own cookie so that it collects the ad performance and user data and dumps it in its own data repository on the Ensighten platform.
To get third-party data flowing in and out of the platform, Ensighten provides an open API (application programming interface) to its vendor partners. The API even allows third-party vendors (like United’s vendors Atlas and DoubleClick) to share data with each other, where they would have had no way of doing so before.
The company has also launched a real-time mobile app optimization and deployment platform, which is designed to help developers and brands amp up in-app purchases.
The new funding round, a combination of debt and equity, totals $53 million, bringing the company’s funding total up to $108.5 million. The round was led by existing investors Insight Venture Partners, Lead Edge Capital, Mack Capital, and Volition Capital, with Silicon Valley Bank participating.
A $53 million chunk of venture capital isn’t something you see every day. Why does Ensighten need so much right now?
“It’s a function of the size of the addressable market,” Manion said. “We are addressing the entire dig marketing system, and the folks we are competing against include some very big companies like Adobe, Oracle, and IBM.”
“So a funding round even of this size doesn’t put us on equal footing with them by any means, but we do see the market as a green field for reinventing the way digital marketing is done,” Manion said.
Ensighten has some big customers, including Microsoft, HP, Home Depot, CDW, E-Trade, Fidelity, TD Bank, Symantec, and Viacom. And it’s signed up some big customers just this year, too, including Delta, Citibank, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Nationwide, PayPal, and SunTrust Bank.
Manion declined to offer specifics about his company’s actual revenue, but said “it’s been in the tens of millions for a while.” He also wouldn’t say exactly how many people the company employs, instead giving a range of between 200 and 300 people.
Ensighten’s headquarters are located near San Jose, California.