Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.
Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.
Last weekend, Google and Apple removed Parler from their respective app stores, the latter after first giving the app 24 hours to come up with a new moderation strategy to address the threats of violence and illegal activity taking place on the app in the wake of the Capitol riot. When Parler failed to take adequate measures, the app was pulled down.
What happened afterwards was unprecedented. All of Parler’s technology backend services providers pulled support for Parler, too, including Amazon AWS (which has led to a lawsuit), Stripe and even Okta, which Parler was only using as a free trial. Other vendors also refused to do business with the app, potentially ending its ability to operate for good.
But although Parler is down, its data lives on. Several efforts have been made to archive Parler data for posterity — and for tipping off the FBI. Gizmodo made a map using the GPS data of 70,000 Parler posts. Another effort, Y’all Qaeda, is also using location data to map videos from Parler to locations around the Capitol building.
These visualizations are possible because the data itself was quickly archived by internet archivist @donk_enby before Parler was taken down, and because Parler stored rich metadata with each user’s post. That means each user’s precise location was recorded when they uploaded their photos and videos to the app.
It’s a gold mine for investigators and a further indication of the privilege these rioters believed they had to avoid prosecution or the extent to which they were willing to throw their life away for their cause — the false reality painted for them by Trump, his allies and other outlets that repeated the “big lie” until they truly believed only a revolution could save our democracy.
The move to kick Parler offline followed the broader deplatforming of Trump, who’s accused of inciting the violence, in part by his refusal to concede and his continued lies about a “rigged election.” As a result, Trump has been deplatformed across social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, Discord and Snapchat, while e-commerce platform Shopify kicked out Trump merch shops and PayPal refused to process transactions for some groups of Trump supporters.
Parler was the most high-profile app used by the Capitol rioters, but others found themselves compromised by the same crowd. Walkie-talkie app Zello, for instance, was used by some insurrectionists during the January 6 riot to communicate. Telegram, meanwhile, recently had to block dozens of hardcore hate channels that were threatening violence, including those led by Nazis (which were reported for years with no action by the company, some claim).
Now, many in the radical right are moving to new platforms outside of the mainstream. Immediately following the Capitol riot, MeWe, CloutHub and other privacy-focused rivals to big tech began topping the app stores, alongside the privacy-focused messengers Signal and Telegram. YouTube alternative Rumble also gained ground due to recent events. Right-wingers even mistakenly downloaded the wrong “Parlor” app and a local newspaper app they thought was the uncensored social network Gab. (They’re not always the brightest bulbs.)
This could soon prove to be another difficult situation for the platforms to address, as we already came across highly concerning posts distributed on MeWe, which had used extreme hate speech or threatened violence. MeWe claims it moderates its content, but its recent growth to now 15 million users may be making that difficult — especially since it’s inheriting the former Parler users, including the radical far-right. The company has not been able to properly moderate the content, which may make it the next to be gone.
App Annie this week released its annual review of the mobile app industry finding (as noted above) that mobile app downloads grew by 7% year-over-year to a record 218 billion in 2020. Consumer spending also grew by 20% to also hit a new milestone of $143 billion, led by markets that included China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. Consumers spent 3.5 trillion minutes on Android devices in 2020. Meanwhile, U.S. users now spend more time in apps (four hours) than watching live TV (3.7 hours).
The full report examines other key trends across social, gaming, finance, e-commerce, video and streaming, mobile food ordering, business apps, edtech and much more. We pulled out some highlights here, such as TikTok’s chart-topping year by downloads, the rise in livestreamed and social shopping, consumers spending 40% more time streaming on mobile YoY and other key trends.
Sensor Tower also released its own annual report, which specifically explored the impact of COVID-19; the growth in business apps, led by Zoom; mobile gaming; and the slow recovery of travel apps, among other things.
Image Credits: Samsung
Though not “apps” news per se, it’s worth making note of what’s next in the Android ecosystem of high-end devices. This week was Samsung’s Unpacked press event, where the company revealed its latest flagship devices and other products. The big news was Samsung’s three new phones and their now lower prices: the glass-backed Galaxy S21 ($799) and S21 Plus ($999), and the S21 Ultra ($1,199), which is S Pen compatible.
The now more streamlined camera systems are the key feature of the new phones, and include:
The devices support UWB and there’s a wild AI-powered photo feature that lets you tap to remove people from the background of your photos. (How well it works is TBD). Other software imaging updates allow you to pull stills from 8K shooting, better image stabilization and a new “Vlogger view” for shooting from front and back cameras as the same time.
Image Credits: Sensor Tower
— Bandsintown (@Bandsintown) January 12, 2021
COVID has cancelled concerts, which required Bandsintown to pivot from helping people find shows to attend to a new subscription service for live music. The company this week launched Bandsintown Plus, a $9.99 per month pass that gives users access to more than 25 concerts per month. The shows offered are exclusive to the platform, and not available on other sites like YouTube, Twitch, Apple Music or Spotify.
Image Credits: Piñata Farms
This new social video app lets you put anyone or anything into an existing video to make humorous video memes. The computer vision-powered app lets you do things like crop out a head from a photo, for example, or use thousands of in-app items to add to your existing video. The resulting creations can be shared in the app, privately through messaging or out to other social platforms. Available on iOS only.
Image Credits: Numbers Protocol
This new blockchain camera app, reviewed here on TechCrunch, uses tech commercialized by the Taiwan-based startup, Numbers Protocol. The app secures the metadata associated with photos you take on the blockchain, also allowing users to adjust privacy settings if they don’t want to share a precise location. Any subsequent changes to the photo are then traced and recorded. Use cases for the technology include journalism (plus combating fake news), as well as a way for photographers to assure their photos are attributed correctly. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.
Image Credits: Foursquare Labs, Inc.
A new experiment from Foursquare Labs, Marsbot, offers an audio guide to your city. As you walk or bike around, the app gives you running commentary about the places around you using data from Foursquare, other content providers and snippets from other app users. The app is also optimized for AirPods, making it iOS-only.
Image Credits: Loupe
Loupe is a new app that modernizes sports card collecting. The app allows users to participate in daily box breaks, host their own livestreams with chats, collect alongside fellow collectors and purchase new sports card singles, packs and boxes when they hit the market, among other things. The app is available on iOS.
The company’s impressive valuation comes after its most recent 2019 Series E in which it raised $268 million on a 2.75 billion valuation, an increase of $3.25 billion in under 18 months. Company co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij believes the increase is due to his company’s progress adding functionality to the platform.
“We believe the increase in valuation over the past year reflects the progress of our complete DevOps platform towards realizing a greater share of the growing, multi-billion dollar software development market,” he told TechCrunch.
While the startup has raised over $434 million, this round involved buying employee stock options, a move that allows the company’s workers to cash in some of their equity prior to going public. CNBC reported that the firms buying the stock included Alta Park, HMI Capital, OMERS Growth Equity, TCV and Verition.
The next logical step would appear to be IPO, something the company has never shied away from. In fact, it actually at one point included the proposed date of November 18, 2020 as a target IPO date on the company wiki. While they didn’t quite make that goal, Sijbrandij still sees the company going public at some point. He’s just not being so specific as in the past, suggesting that the company has plenty of runway left from the last funding round and can go public when the timing is right.
“We continue to believe that being a public company is an integral part of realizing our mission. As a public company, GitLab would benefit from enhanced brand awareness, access to capital, shareholder liquidity, autonomy and transparency,” he said.
He added, “That said, we want to maximize the outcome by selecting an opportune time. Our most recent capital raise was in 2019 and contributed to an already healthy balance sheet. A strong balance sheet and business model enables us to select a period that works best for realizing our long-term goals.”
GitLab has not only published IPO goals on its Wiki, but its entire company philosophy, goals and OKRs for everyone to see. Sijbrandij told TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm at a TechCrunch Disrupt panel in September that he believes that transparency helps attract and keep employees. It doesn’t hurt that the company was and remains a fully remote organization, even pre-COVID.
“We started [this level of] transparency to connect with the wider community around GitLab, but it turned out to be super beneficial for attracting great talent as well,” Sijbrandij told Wilhelm in September.
The company, which launched in 2014, offers a DevOps platform to help move applications through the programming lifecycle.
Update: The original headline of this story has been changed from ‘GitLab raises $195M in secondary funding on $6 billion valuation.’
Most developers don’t enjoy writing documentation for their code and that makes life quite a bit harder when a new team member tries to get started on working on a company’s codebase. And even when there are documentation or in-line comments in the source code, that’s often not updated and over time, that information becomes close to irrelevant. Swimm, which today announced that it has raised a $5.7 million seed round, aims to automate as much of this process as possible after the initial documentation has been written by automatically updating it as changes are made.
The funding round was led by Pitango First, with TAU Ventures, Axon Ventures and Fundfire also investing in this round, together with a group of angel investors that include the founder of developer platform Snyk.
Swimm’s marketing mostly focuses on helping teams speed up onboarding, but it’s probably a useful tool for any team. Using Swimm, you can create the standard — but auto-updated — documentation, but also walkthroughs and tutorials. Using its code browser, you can also easily find all of the documentation that relates to a given file.
The nifty part here is that while the tool can’t write the documentation for you, Swimm will automatically update any code examples in the documentation for you — or alert you when there is a major change that needs a manual update. Ideally, this will reduce the drift between the codebase and documentation.
The founding team, Oren Toledano (CEO), Omer Rosenbaum (CTO), Gilad Navot (Chief Product Officer) and Tom Ahi Dror (Chief Business Officer), started working on this problem based on their experience while running Israel Tech Challenge, a coding bootcamp inspired by the training program used by the Israeli Defence Forces’ 8200 Intelligence Unit.
“We met with many companies in Israel and in the US to understand the engineering onboarding process,” Toledano told me. “And we felt that it was kind of broken — and many times, we heard the sentence: ‘we throw them to the water, and they either sink or swim.'” (That’s also why the company is called Swimm). Companies, he argues, often don’t have a way to train new employees on their code base, simply because it’s impossible for them to do so effectively without good documentation.
“The larger the company is, the more scattered the knowledge on the code base is — and a lot of this knowledge leaves the company when developers leave,” he noted.
With Swimm, a company could ideally not just offer those new hires access to tutorials that are based on the current code base, but also an easier entryway to start working on the production codebase as well.
One thing that’s worth noting here is that developers run Swimm locally on a developer’s machine. In part, that’s because this approach reduces the security risks since no code is ever sent to Swimm’s servers. Indeed, the Swimm team tells me that some of its early customers are security companies. It also makes it easier for new users to get started with Swimm.
Toledano tells me that while the team mostly focused on building the core of the product and working with its early design partners (and its first set of paying customers), the plan for the next few months is to bring on more users after launching the product’s beta.
“Software development is now at the core of every modern business. Swimm provides a structured, contextual and transparent way to improve developer productivity,” said Yair Cassuto, a partner at Pitango First who is joining Swimm‘s board. “Swimm’s solution allows for rapid and insightful onboarding on any codebase. This applies across the developer life cycle: from onboarding to project transitions, adopting new open source capabilities and even offboarding.”
Harness, the startup that wants to create a suite of engineering tools to give every company the kind of technological reach that the biggest companies have, announced an $85 million Series C today on a $1.7 billion valuation.
Today’s round comes after 2019’s $60 million Series B, which had a $500 million valuation, showing a company rapidly increasing in value. For a company that launched just three years ago, this is a fairly remarkable trajectory.
Alkeon Capital led the round with help from new investors Battery Ventures, Citi Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Sorenson Capital and Thomvest Ventures. The startup also revealed a previously unannounced $30 million B-1 round raised after the $60 million round, bringing the total raised to date to $195 million.
Company founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal previously founded AppDynamics, which he sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. With his track record, investors came looking for him this round. It didn’t hurt that revenue grew almost 3x last year.
“The business is doing very well, so the investor community has been proactively reaching out and trying to invest in us. We were not actually planning to raise a round until later this year. We had enough capital to get through that, but there were a lot of people wanting to invest,” Bansal told me.
In fact, he said there is so much investor interest that he could have raised twice as much, but didn’t feel a need to take on that much capital at this time. “Overall, the investor community sees the value in developer tools and the DevOps market. There are so many big public companies now in that space that have gone out in the last three to five years and that has definitely created even more validation of this space,” he said.
Bansal says that he started the company with the goal of making every company as good as Google or Facebook when it comes to engineering efficiency. Since most companies lack the engineering resources of these large companies, that’s a tall task, but one he thinks he can solve through software.
The company started by building a continuous delivery module. A cloud cost-efficiency module followed. Last year the company bought open-source continuous integration company Drone.io and they are working on building that into the platform now, with it currently in beta. There are additional modules on the product roadmap coming this year, according to Bansal.
As the company continued to grow revenue and build out the platform in 2020, it also added a slew of new employees, growing from 200 to 300 during the pandemic. Bansal says that he has plans to add another 200 by the end of this year. Harness has a reputation of being a good place to work, recently landing on Glassdoor’s best companies list.
As an experienced entrepreneur, Bansal takes building a diverse company with a welcoming culture very seriously. “Yes, you have to provide equal opportunity and make sure that you are open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds, but you have to be more proactive about it in the sense that you have to make sure that your company environment and company culture feels very welcoming to everyone,” he said.
It’s been a difficult time building a company during the pandemic, adding so many new employees, and finding a way to make everyone feel welcome and included. Bansal says he has actually seen productivity increase during the pandemic, but now has to guard against employee burnout.
He says that people didn’t know how to draw boundaries when working at home. One thing he did was introduce a program to give everyone one Friday a month off to recharge. The company also recently announced it would be a “work from anywhere” company post-COVID, but Bansal still plans on having regional offices where people can meet when needed.
Openbase founder Lior Grossman started his company the way that many founders do — to solve a problem he was having. In this case, it was finding the right open-source components to build his software. He decided to build something to solve the problem, and Openbase was born.
Today, the company announced a $3.65 million seed round led by Zeev Ventures with participation from Y Combinator and 20 individual tech industry investors. Openbase was a member of the YC 2020 cohort.
Grossman says that being part of YC helped him meet investors, especially on Demo Day when hundreds of investors listened in. “I would say that being part of YC definitely gave us a higher profile, and exposed us to some investors that I didn’t know before. It definitely opened doors for us,” he said.
As developers build modern software, they often use open-source components to help build the application, and Openbase helps them find the best one for their purposes. “Openbase basically helps developers choose from among millions of open-source packages,” Grossman told me.
Image Credits: Openbase
Grossman found that his idea began resonating with developers shortly after he launched in 2019. In fact, he reports that he went from zero to half a million users in the first year without any marketing beyond word of mouth. That’s when he decided to apply to Y Combinator and got into the Summer 2020 class.
The database is free for developers, and that has helped build the user base so quickly. Eventually he hopes to monetize by allowing certain companies to promote their packages on the system. He says that these will be clearly marked and that the plan is to have only one promoted package per category. What’s more, they will retain all their user reviews and other associated data, regardless of whether it’s being promoted or not.
Grossman started the company on his own, but has added five employees, with plans to hire more people this year to keep growing the startup. As an immigrant founder, he is sensitive to diversity and sees building a diverse company as a key goal. “I built this company as an immigrant myself […] and I want to build an inclusive culture with people from different backgrounds because I think that will produce the best environment to foster innovation,” he explained.
So far the company has been fully remote, but the plan is to open an office post-pandemic. He says he sees a highly flexible approach to work, though, with people spending some days in the office and some at home. “I think for our culture this hybrid approach will work. Whenever we expand further I obviously imagine having more offices and not only our office in San Francisco.”
Vantage, a new service that makes managing AWS resources and their associated spend easier, is coming out of stealth today. The service offers its users an alternative to the complex AWS console with support for most of the standard AWS services, including EC2 instances, S3 buckets, VPCs, ECS and Fargate and Route 53 hosted zones.
The company’s founder, Ben Schaechter, previously worked at AWS and Digital Ocean (and before that, he worked on Crunchbase, too). Yet while DigitalOcean showed him how to build a developer experience for individuals and small businesses, he argues that the underlying services and hardware simply weren’t as robust as those of the hyperclouds. AWS, on the other hand, offers everything a developer could want (and likely more), but the user experience leaves a lot to be desired.
“The idea was really born out of ‘what if we could take the user experience of DigitalOcean and apply it to the three public cloud providers, AWS, GCP and Azure,” Schaechter told me. “We decided to start just with AWS because the experience there is the roughest and it’s the largest player in the market. And I really think that we can provide a lot of value there before we do GCP and Azure.”
The focus for Vantage is on the developer experience and cost transparency. Schaechter noted that some of its users describe it as being akin to a “Mint for AWS.” To get started, you give Vantage a set of read permissions to your AWS services and the tool will automatically profile everything in your account. The service refreshes this list once per hour, but users can also refresh their lists manually.
Given that it’s often hard enough to know which AWS services you are actually using, that alone is a useful feature. “That’s the number one use case,” he said. “What are we paying for and what do we have?”
At the core of Vantage is what the team calls “views,” which allows you to see which resources you are using. What is interesting here is that this is quite a flexible system and allows you to build custom views to see which resources you are using for a given application across regions, for example. Those may include Lambda, storage buckets, your subnet, code pipeline and more.
On the cost-tracking side, Vantage currently only offers point-in-time costs, but Schaechter tells me that the team plans to add historical trends as well to give users a better view of their cloud spend.
Schaechter and his co-founder bootstrapped the company and he noted that before he wants to raise any money for the service, he wants to see people paying for it. Currently, Vantage offers a free plan, as well as paid “pro” and “business” plans with additional functionality.
We are more than seven years into the notion of modern containerization, and it still requires a complex set of tools and a high level of knowledge on how containers work. The DockerSlim open source project developed several years ago from a desire to remove some of that complexity for developers.
Slim.ai, a new startup that wants to build a commercial product on top of the open source project, announced a $6.6 million seed round today from Boldstart Ventures, Decibel Partners, FXP Ventures and TechAviv Founder Partners.
Company co-founder and CEO John Amaral says he and fellow co-founder and CTO Kyle Quest have worked together for years, but it was Quest who started and nurtured DockerSlim. “We started coming together around a project that Kyle built called DockerSlim. He’s the primary author, inventor and up until we started doing this company, the sole proprietor of that of that community,” Amaral explained.
At the time Quest built DockerSlim in 2015, he was working with Docker containers and he wanted a way to automate some of the lower level tasks involved in dealing with them. “I wanted to solve my own pain points and problems that I had to deal with, and my team had to deal with dealing with containers. Containers were an exciting new technology, but there was a lot of domain knowledge you needed to build production-grade applications and not everybody had that kind of domain expertise on the team, which is pretty common in almost every team,” he said.
He originally built the tool to optimize container images, but he began looking at other aspects of the DevOps lifecycle including the author, build, deploy and run phases. He found as he looked at that, he saw the possibility of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.
Quinn says that while the open source project is a starting point, he and Amaral see a lot of areas to expand. “You need to integrate it into your developer workflow and then you have different systems you deal with, different container registries, different cloud environments and all of that. […] You need a solution that can address those needs and doing that through an open source tool is challenging, and that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity to provide premium value and have a commercial product offering,” Quinn explained.
Ed Sim, founder and general partner at Boldstart Ventures, one of the seed investors sees a company bringing innovation to an area of technology where it has been lacking, while putting some more control in the hands of developers. “Slim can shift that all left and give developers the power through the Slim tools to answer all those questions, and then, boom, they can develop containers, push them into production and then DevOps can do their thing,” he said.
They are just 15 people right now including the founders, but Amaral says building a diverse and inclusive company is important to him, and that’s why one of his early hires was head of culture. “One of the first two or three people we brought into the company was our head of culture. We actually have that role in our company now, and she is a rock star and a highly competent and focused person on building a great culture. Culture and diversity to me are two sides of the same coin,” he said.
The company is still in the very early stages of developing that product. In the meantime, they continue to nurture the open source project and to build a community around that. They hope to use that as a springboard to build interest in the commercial product, which should be available some time later this year.
Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.
The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in global consumer spend in 2019. Consumer spend also hit a record $112 billion across iOS and Android alone.
Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.
To varying degrees, social apps had to quickly figure out where to draw the line on allowing Trump to continue to use their platforms this week, after his false claims about a rigged election led Trump supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, destroying property, stealing at least one computer, potentially gaining access to other unlocked computers and causing chaos that led to five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer who has now died of injuries sustained on duty.
Social platforms, however, have been complicit in allowing these dangerous and radicalized groups to emerge in the first place. Facebook, for example, allowed StoptheSteal and Secession groups to organize using its platform. It also waited years to sweep the platform of QAnon groups, and then didn’t even finish the job — these disinformation networks remain live on the platform today. But even smaller gestures aimed at cleaning up the mess of a platform that prioritized ad dollars over safety led some Trump supporters to flee to other social media networks used by the far-right, such as Gab and Parler. There, they could post even more violent rhetoric without repercussions.
@thegoodliarsOur view of the terrorists storming the Capitol. ##trumplost ##dc ##washington ##trumpisaloser ##coup♬ original sound – The Good Liars
Following the riot, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump would be banned from both Facebook and Instagram for two weeks. Twitter initially locked Trump’s account on Wednesday, then allowed him to return after deleting a few tweets, noting that another violation would result in permanent suspension. On Friday, it permanently banned Trump, and his other close associates.
Both also removed Trump’s video where he showed support for rioters, telling them to go home but also “we love you, you’re very special.”
TikTok, though obviously not used by Trump, took down re-shares of Trump’s video, but allowed counter speech against it and some posts by news organizations. And it proactively blocked the hashtags used by rioters. Snapchat locked Trump’s account as well, and Twitch disabled him until the end of his term.
New social apps and startups with social features will often mimic the general approaches of the large platforms as they craft their own content policies. But human rights organizations argue that what’s being done is not enough.
Said activist group Color of Change this week, “Mark Zuckerberg does not deserve applause for taking action at the 11th hour, after years of damage has already been done. Facebook is unquestionably complicit in the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill yesterday, and in the erosion of our democracy that’s continued to unfold in plain sight.”
The group is urging for Trump’s permanent ban from Facebook and for the network to “take action against his enablers and allies who continue to use the platform to incite violence and spread dangerous misinformation.”
On Friday, Buzzfeed News reported Parler had received a letter from Apple that said they had 24 hours to come up with a moderation plan for the app, otherwise it would be banned from the App Store. Google Play, however, more quickly banned the app on Friday until the company could commit to a moderation and enforcement policy to handle objectionable content on its network.
Google’s statement reads as follows:
“In order to protect user safety on Google Play, our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence. All developers agree to these terms and we have reminded Parler of this clear policy in recent months. We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US. We recognize that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content. In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.“
Parler had been one of the places where Trump supporters and other extremists to organized their plans to storm the Capitol this week as well as plan future attacks. Posts on Parler, which has a looser moderation policy compared with Twitter, often call for people’s deaths and even for Civil War.
Several high-profile conservatives, including members of Trump’s family, had been participating on Parler, following the increased enforcement of various polices against election misinformation and false claims about COVID-19, among other things, on mainstream social platforms.
It is not unusual for Apple and Google to take action against apps with harmful content, though one has to wonder why it took a deadly insurrection aimed at toppling U.S. democratic processes for them to care.
Ahead of the violence at the Capitol this week, the Trump administration continued its crackdown on Chinese mobile applications. Via an executive order signed on Tuesday, the U.S. banned transactions with eight Chinese mobile apps, including Ant Group’s Alipay mobile payment app, Reuters first reported.
Others named in the order include CamScanner, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate (published by Alibaba Group subsidiary UCWeb) and Beijing Kingsoft Office Software’s WPS Office.
The move is meant to cut off China’s access to U.S. user data, including, per the order, the ability for China to “track the locations of federal employees and contractors” and “build dossiers of personal information.”
The administration had previously banned TikTok and WeChat, but U.S. courts blocked the orders from going into effect.
Image Credits: Tapjoy
Mobile advertising company Tapjoy settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over allegations that it was misleading consumers about the in-app rewards they could earn in mobile games. The FTC said Tapjoy deceived consumers who participated in various activities — like purchasing a product, signing up for a free trial, providing their personal information like an email address or completing a survey — in exchange for in-game virtual currency. But when it was time to pay up, Tapjoy’s partners didn’t deliver.
The order will now require Tapjoy to follow up on complaints and monitor to ensure that offers are delivered, or face further fines of up to $43,280 per each violation.
Tapjoy serves as a middleman between developers, consumers and advertisers, and is one of many “offerwall”-based mobile ad networks available today.
Mobile game developers integrate Tapjoy’s technology to display ads — aka “offers” — to their customers, in order to earn payments for their users’ activity. When the consumer completes the offer by taking whatever action was required, they’re supposed to earn in-game coins or other virtual currency. The app developers then earn a percentage of that ad revenue. But the FTC said that would often not happen, and Tapjoy ignored hundreds of thousands of consumer complaints.
Though Tapjoy was the business being held accountable in the FTC’s ruling, the Commissioners harshly scolded the “rent-seeking” app store business model for allowing networks like Tapjoy to rise in the first place. Using language that strongly hinted that regulation of the app stores was on the way, the Commissioners scolded the app stores’ “vast power to impose taxes and regulations on the mobile gaming industry.”
“This market structure also has cascading effects on gamers and consumers,” the ruling stated. “Under heavy taxation by Apple and Google, developers have been forced to adopt alternative monetization models that rely on surveillance, manipulation, and other harmful practices,” it said.
Apple is being given a lot of credit in recent weeks for its privacy push, with the launch of its so-called app store “nutrition labels” that help to better highlight the bad actors in the mobile app market. But some of the recent reporting neglects to explain why these alternative business models rose in the first place or detail how Apple will financially benefit from the shift to subscriptions that will result from the mobile ad clampdown. It’s also rarely noted that Apple itself serves behavioral advertising within its own apps that is based on the user data it collects from across its catalog of first-party apps and services. That’s not to say that Apple isn’t doing a service with its privacy push, but it’s a complex matter. This isn’t sports; you don’t have to pick one side or the other.
The FTC then not-too-subtly warned Apple and Google that it “will need to use all of its tools — competition, consumer protection, and data protection — to combat middlemen mischief, including by the largest gaming gatekeepers.”
Image Credits: SuperData
To ring in 2021 we released our first AR effect on the new iPhone 12 Pro, using LiDAR technology which allows us to create effects that interact with your environment – visually bridging the digital and physical worlds. We're excited to develop more innovative effects in 2021! pic.twitter.com/6yFD2FfHta
— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) January 6, 2021
Image Credits: CIRP
Image Credits: Breaker/Twitter
New app Overviewer, reviewed here by 9to5Mac, turns an iOS device into a document camera for sharing content on video conferencing apps, like Zoom. The app makes for a good companion for teachers doing virtual learning as well as businesses. The app was created by Dark Noise app developer Charlie Chapman.
Image Credits: TextCraft
Want an easier way to insert the clapping hands emoji into your online rants, type text as bubbled letters, type In aLtErNaTe cAsE, in hashtags, in superscript or anything else? The new Textcraft app can help. The app allows you to type in the text then copy and paste or share any one of its over 50 text transformations. The app is well-designed with support for dark mode, drag-and-drop on iPad, and other macOS design guidelines in mind when using it across platforms.
According to a tween who reviewed the app for me: “This is cool. I want it.” They then ignored me as they played with it. I think that’s a good sign. (Paid download of $6.99 on iOS, iPad and Mac).
Image Credits: Discovery
If you’ve binged it all during the pandemic, there’s a new option for you. Discovery+ launched this week, bringing Discovery’s networks — HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet — to a $5 per month subscription video on demand service. (Or $7 if you don’t want ads.)
The app also includes some non-Discovery content, like nature documentaries from the BBC and programming from A&E, The History Channel and Lifetime.
If home renovation, travel and reality are your escapist favs, this could be the app for you.
Image Credits: Wellnest
It’s been a stressful week. Maybe it’s time for some self-care? Guided journaling app Wellnest is helping users prioritize their mental health using game design techniques. The app offers deep dive question sets, daily prompts, mood check-in, speech to text, insights and more, wrapped up in a colorful and simple package. The app is a free download, then $24 per year or $5 per month for full access.
The end of the year is looming and with it one of your most important tasks as a manager. Summarizing the performance of 10, 20 or 50 developers over the past 12 months, offering personalized advice and having the facts to back it up — is no small task.
We believe that the only unbiased, accurate and insightful way to understand how your developers are working, progressing and — last but definitely not least — how they’re feeling, is with data. Data can provide more objective insights into employee activity than could ever be gathered by a human.
It’s still very hard for many managers to fully understand that all employees work at different paces and levels.
Consider this: Over two-thirds of employees say they would put more effort into their work if they felt more appreciated, and 90% want a manager who’s fair to all employees.
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to judge all of your employees fairly if you’re (1) unable to work physically side-by-side with them, meaning you’ll inevitably have more contact with the some over others (e.g., those you’re more friendly with); and (2) you’re relying on manual trackers to keep on top of everyone’s work, which can get lost and take a lot of effort to process and analyze; (3) you expect engineers to self-report their progress, which is far from objective.
It’s also unlikely, especially with the quieter ones, that on top of all that you’ll have identified areas for them to expand their talents by upskilling or reskilling. But it’s that kind of personal attention that will make employees feel appreciated and able to progress professionally with you. Absent that, they’re likely to take the next best job opportunity that shows up.
So here’s a run down of why you need data to set up a fair annual review process; if not this year, then you can kick-start it for 2021.
The best way to track your developers’ progress automatically is by using Git Analytics tools, which track the performance of individuals by aggregating historical Git data and then feeding that information back to managers in minute detail.
This data will clearly show you if one of your engineers is over capacity or underworked and the types of projects they excel in. If you’re assessing an engineering manager and the team members they’re responsible for have been taking longer to push their code to the shared repository, causing a backlog of tasks, it may mean that they’re not delegating tasks properly. An appropriate goal here would be to track and divide their team’s responsibilities more efficiently, which can be tracked using the same metrics, or cross-training members of other teams to assist with their tasks.
Another example is that of an engineer who is dipping their toe into multiple projects. Indicators of where they’ve performed best include churn (we’ll get to that later), coworkers repeatedly asking that same employee to assist them in new tasks and of course positive feedback for senior staff, which can easily be integrated into Git analytics tools. These are clear signs that next year, your engineer could be maximizing their talents in these alternative areas, and you could diversify their tasks accordingly.
Once you know what targets to set, you can use analytics tools to create automatic targets for each engineer. That means that after you’ve set it up, it will be updated regularly on the engineer’s progress using indicators directly from the code repository. It won’t need time-consuming input from either you or your employee, allowing you both to focus on more important tasks. As a manager you’ll receive full reports once the deadline of the task is reached and get notified whenever metrics start dropping or the goal has been met.
This is important — you’ll be able to keep on top of those goals yourself, without having to delegate that responsibility or depend on self-reporting by the engineer. It will keep employee monitoring honest and transparent.
The easiest way for managers to “conclude” how an engineer has performed is by looking at superficial output: the number of completed pull requests submitted per week, the number of commits per day, etc. Especially for nontechnical managers, this is a grave but common error. When something is done, it doesn’t mean it’s been done well or that it is even productive or usable.
Instead, look at these data points to determine the actual quality of your engineer’s work:
StepZen, a new startup from the crew who gave you Apigee (which was sold to Google in 2016 for $625 million) had a different vision for their latest company. They are building a single API that pulls data from disparate sources to help developers deliver more complex customer experiences online.
With years of experience working with APIs, the founders wanted to take that a step further, says CEO and co-founder Anant Jhingran. “StepZen is a product that lets front end developers easily create and consume one API for all the data they need from the back end,” he explained.
This is all in the service of providing a smoother, more consistent customer experience. That means whether you are on an e-commerce site accessing your order history or a banking app grabbing your current balance, these scenarios require pulling data from various back-end data resources. Connecting to those resources is a time-consuming task, and StepZen wants to simplify that for developers.
“Developers spend an enormous amount of time deploying and managing code that accesses the back end, and what StepZen wants to do is to give them that time back,” he said.
Instead of manually writing code to pull this data, StepZen enables developers to simply provide configuration information and credentials to connect to these back-end data sources, and then it builds a single API that handles all of the heavy lifting of pulling that data and presenting it when needed.
Jhingran uses the example of presenting a list of open orders for a customer. It sounds simple enough, but once you consider that the data could live in several places, including the CRM system, the order system or with your courier, that means accessing at least three separate and highly disparate systems. StepZen will help pull this all together via its API and present it smoothly to the user.
Today the company has 11 employees, including the three founders, with plans to add another eight or so in 2021. As they do that, CBO and co-founder Helen Whelan says they are working to build a diverse and inclusive company. While the founding team is itself diverse, they want to hire employees with diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking to build the most complete product and company.
“For the first 10 or so employees, we tapped into the networks of the people who we’ve worked with, people who you know can do a great job. Then I think it’s about deliberately expanding from there and deliberately taking the time that you need to explore and expand your pipeline of candidates,” she said.
The company is just nine months old and has been spending most of this year building the solution and working with pre-alpha users. Today the product is in alpha, with plans to release it as a software service early next year.
As the company emerges from stealth, it’s looking to continue building the product and looking for ways to remove as much complexity as possible. “We know how to do the hard things on the back end. We’ve got the database technologies and the API technologies down, and it’s now about finding how to make all of that simple on the outside and easy for developers to use, ” Whelan said.
Twitter is rolling out new features to its developer community with an update to its recently rebuilt Twitter API. One addition to the now expanded collection of API v2 endpoints will allow app developers to eventually better support Twitter’s newer conversation controls — the feature that allows users to specify who can reply to their tweets. Other endpoints allow developers to track tweets by particular accounts, those mentioning a certain account, or retrieve a list of accounts who follow a particular user.
The new endpoints are a continuation of Twitter’s work on version 2 of its developer API, first introduced this June. The API was rebuilt for the first time since 2012 with a goal of including features that had been missing from the earlier version, like polls, pinned tweets and spam filtering, for example, while also rolling out improvements to areas like search and stream filtering.
But Twitter’s API continues to be a work in progress, as Twitter adds endpoints and further fleshes out its tiered access plans.
In this release, Twitter is adding some support for the conversation settings introduced earlier this year. This feature allows users to choose who can respond to their tweets. On Twitter, users can opt to allow everyone to reply, or they can limit replies only to those they follow or even just the people mentioned in the tweet. These conversation controls are now partially supported in the new API as well, through a field in the Tweet object called reply_settings. The addition will allow developers to tell if the conversation reply settings have been set for a tweet, and if so, who can reply. However, Twitter has not yet writen support for these fields, which Twitter says is coming “in the future.”
Eventually, a feature like this may allow third-party apps to better mimic the first-party experience on Twitter.com and in Twitter’s own native apps. It could also help developers build out social listening apps that only pull in those tweets a social media manager is able to reply to, noted SocialOpinions developer Jamie Maguire, in a Twitter post. Twitter also suggests it could be useful for researchers looking to learn more about the public conversation.
The feature is fully rolled out to v2, Twitter says.
Another set of endpoints, user tweet timeline and user mention timelines, return a collection of tweets either composed by or those mentioning a specific Twitter user. Now, these endpoints can also specify the start_time and end_time parameters, meaning they can be used to collect tweets during a certain window of time. The “user mention timeline” endpoint also now supports application-only authentication, which Twitter says will make it easier for developers or researchers analyzing a given account.
The company notes these had been two of the most heavily used endpoints in the first version of the API, as they allow for tools in areas like customer support, brand analysis and those that measure a Twitter user’s sentiment over time.
At launch, developers can request up to 100 tweets per request. The user tweet timeline endpoint is limited to the 3,200 most recent tweets, and the user mention timeline is limited to the 800 most recent tweets. Both will count toward the monthly tweet cap on Standard Basic access, which is 500,000. This limit is not permanent — Twitter has said before it plans to offer Elevated access to the Twitter API v2 in the Standard product track sometime next year, and businesses can sign up for that free beta here.
These are available in Early Access to the Twitter API v2.
Twitter also this week launched two new follows lookup endpoints, also in Early Access, that allow developers to retrieve a list of accounts who follow a particular person, or pull the list of accounts that someone follows. These are often used by developers who want to understand how accounts on Twitter are linked for the purpose of network analysis or in the examination of the spread of information or misinformation.
Adding support for a this new API endpoint.
Parts of this will support audience intelligence capabilities and let me surface follower interests, product and brand affinity. pic.twitter.com/2VWC23Jz1Y
— Jamie Maguire (@jamie_maguire1) December 20, 2020
Developers had told Twitter they wanted to be able to pull rich information about an account’s relationships without having to make additional calls to look up that account data. These endpoints allow developers to pull the profile information about an account’s follows in just one request, instead of numerous calls using prior versions of the Twitter API.
These endpoints are often used alongside the endpoints that allow you to follow and unfollow accounts, as well as block and mute accounts. However, that functionality is not yet available.
Twitter committed to more transparency around its API changes and updates this time, but developers may still be wary of building on the platform because of Twitter’s history. The company in past years repeatedly pulled the rug out from developers building Twitter apps, even cutting off access to partners and canceling its developer conference. These moves aren’t easily forgotten.
For the longest time, Google’s new Fuchsia operating system remained a bit of a mystery — with little information in terms of the company’s plans for it, even as the team behind it brought the code to GitHub under a standard open-source license. These days, we know that it’s Google’s first attempt at developing a completely new kernel and general purpose operating system that promises to be more than just an experiment (or a retention project to keep senior engineers from jumping ship). For the most part, though, Google has remained pretty mum about the subject.
It seems like Google is ready to start talking about Fuchsia a bit more now. The company today announced that it is expanding the Fuchsia open-source community and opening it up to contributions from the public. Typically, companies start opening up their open-source projects to outside contributors once they feel they have achieved a stable foundation that others can build on.
“Starting today, we are expanding Fuchsia‘s open source model to make it easier for the public to engage with the project,” the team writes. “We have created new public mailing lists for project discussions, added a governance model to clarify how strategic decisions are made, and opened up the issue tracker for public contributors to see what’s being worked on. As an open source effort, we welcome high-quality, well-tested contributions from all. There is now a process to become a member to submit patches, or a committer with full write access.”
Google is also publishing a technical roadmap for Fuchsia, with a driver framework, file system performance and expanding the input pipeline for accessibility at the top of the list.
The company also specifically notes that Fuchsia is not ready for general product development or even as a development target. Anybody with the right technical chops can clone the repository and build the code, though. Google already provides quite a bit of documentation around how to do that today, as well as an emulator.
Google also notes that it aims to build an include open source community around the project. “Fuchsia is an open source project that is inclusive by design, from the architecture of the platform itself, to the open source community that we’re building. The project is still evolving rapidly, but the underlying principles and values of the system have remained relatively constant throughout the project.”
As a product manager, I’m a true believer that you can solve any problem with the right product and process, even one as gnarly as the multiheaded hydra that is microservice overhead.
Working for Vertex Ventures US this summer was my chance to put this to the test. After interviewing 30+ industry experts from a diverse set of companies — Facebook, Fannie Mae, Confluent, Salesforce and more — and hosting a webinar with the co-founders of PagerDuty, LaunchDarkly and OpsLevel, we were able to answer three main questions:
Out of dozens of companies we spoke with, only two had not yet started their journey to microservices, but both were actively considering it. Industry trends mirror this as well. In an O’Reilly survey of 1500+ respondents, more than 75% had started to adopt microservices.
It’s rare for companies to start building with microservices from the ground up. Of the companies we spoke with, only one had done so. Some startups, such as LaunchDarkly, plan to build their infrastructure using microservices, but turned to a monolith once they realized the high cost of overhead.
“We were spending more time effectively building and operating a system for distributed systems versus actually building our own services so we pulled back hard,” said John Kodumal, CTO and co-founder of LaunchDarkly.
“As an example, the things we were trying to do in mesosphere, they were impossible,” he said. “We couldn’t do any logging. Zero downtime deploys were impossible. There were so many bugs in the infrastructure and we were spending so much time debugging the basic things that we weren’t building our own service.”
As a result, it’s more common for companies to start with a monolith and move to microservices to scale their infrastructure with their organization. Once a company reaches ~30 developers, most begin decentralizing control by moving to a microservice architecture.
Teams may take different routes to arrive at a microservice architecture, but they tend to face a common set of challenges once they get there.
Large companies with established monoliths are keen to move to microservices, but costs are high and the transition can take years. Atlassian’s platform infrastructure is in microservices, but legacy monoliths in Jira and Confluence persist despite ongoing decomposition efforts. Large companies often get stuck in this transition. However, a combination of strong, top-down strategy combined with bottoms-up dev team support can help companies, such as Freddie Mac, make substantial progress.
Some startups, like Instacart, first shifted to a modular monolith that allows the code to reside in a single repository while beginning the process of distributing ownership of discrete code functions to relevant teams. This enables them to mitigate the overhead associated with a microservice architecture by balancing the visibility of having a centralized repository and release pipeline with the flexibility of discrete ownership over portions of the codebase.
Teams may take different routes to arrive at a microservice architecture, but they tend to face a common set of challenges once they get there. John Laban, CEO and co-founder of OpsLevel, which helps teams build and manage microservices told us that “with a distributed or microservices based architecture your teams benefit from being able to move independently from each other, but there are some gotchas to look out for.”
Indeed, the linked O’Reilly chart shows how the top 10 challenges organizations face when adopting microservices are shared by 25%+ of respondents. While we discussed some of the adoption blockers above, feedback from our interviews highlighted issues around managing complexity.
The lack of a coherent definition for a service can cause teams to generate unnecessary overhead by creating too many similar services or spreading related services across different groups. One company we spoke with went down the path of decomposing their monolith and took it too far. Their service definitions were too narrow, and by the time decomposition was complete, they were left with 4,000+ microservices to manage. They then had to backtrack and consolidate down to a more manageable number.
Defining too many services creates unnecessary organizational and technical silos while increasing complexity and overhead. Logging and monitoring must be present on each service, but with ownership spread across different teams, a lack of standardized tooling can create observability headaches. It’s challenging for teams to get a single-pane-of-glass view with too many different interacting systems and services that span the entire architecture.
Cloudflare is working on a new product called Cloudflare Pages. The new product could compete directly with Netlify and Vercel, two cloud hosting companies that let you build and deploy sites using Jamstack frameworks. Popular Jamstack frameworks include Gatsby, Jekyll, Hugo, Vue.js, Next.js, etc.
The new product was discovered on Saturday by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong, who found details by looking into Cloudflare’s code.
Cloudflare is working on Cloudflare Pages, a cloud platform for deploying and hosting JAMstack websites and more!
– supports Node during building the deployment
– integrates w/ GitHub for automatic deployment
– comes with *.sites.dev subdomain
– production & preview branch pic.twitter.com/jzSUTp89SI
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) December 5, 2020
If you’re not familiar with Jamstack, it’s a popular way of developing and deploying websites at scale. It lets you take advantage of global edge networks with a focus on performance.
Let’s say you’re a very famous pop artist and you’re launching your new album on your website tomorrow. You expect to get a huge traffic spike and a ton of orders.
If you also happen to be a web developer, you could develop a Jamstack website to make sure that your website remains available and loads quickly. Instead of using a traditional content management system to host your content and deliver it to your users, a Jamstack framework lets you decouple the frontend from the backend.
You could write a few posts in your content management system and then deploy your website update. Your Jamstack application will prebuild static pages based on what you just wrote. Those pages will be cached on a global edge network and served in a few milliseconds across the world. It’s like photocopying a letter instead of writing a new copy every time somebody wants to read it.
But what if somebody wants to buy your new album on the buy page? On that page, there will be a checkout module, which is dynamic content that can’t be cached. You can leverage a payments API, such as Stripe, so that the user doesn’t load content from your server at all.
This is a simple example, but many companies have been going down this path. For static content, everything is prebuilt and cached. For dynamic content, companies build microservices that are loaded on demand and that can scale easily.
According to Jane Manchun Wong’s screenshots, Cloudflare Pages lets you deploy sites with a simple Git commit. It integrates directly with your GitHub repository if you’re hosting your source code on the platform.
You can configure a Node.js build command that will be executed every time you change something to your code. Once the build process is done, your website is accessible to your end users.
There will be a free tier for Cloudflare Pages, which lets you generate 500 builds per month. Above that quota, Cloudflare will most likely let you pay for more builds and more features.
By default, Cloudflare gives you a subdomain name to try out the service — your-website-name.pages.dev. Of course, you can configure your own domain name and combine Cloudflare Pages with other Cloudflare products.
You can already read Cloudflare Pages’ documentation, as spotted by Jane Manchun Wong. So it sounds like Cloudflare Pages could launch sooner rather than later.
I also came across Cloudflare Pages’s docs site, which includes guides on:
– deploying sites built with Gatsby, Hugo, Jekyll, React & Vue
– deploying API & Headless CMS on Cloudflare Pages
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) December 5, 2020
The way a team functions and communicates dictates the operational efficiency of a startup and sets the scene for its culture. It’s way more important than what social events and perks are offered, so it’s the responsibility of a founder and/or CEO to provide their team with a technology approach that will empower them to achieve and succeed — now and in the future.
With that in mind, moving to the cloud might seem like a no-brainer because of its huge benefits around flexibility, accessibility and the potential to rapidly scale, while keeping budgets in check.
But there’s an important consideration here: Cloud providers won’t magically give you efficient teams.
Designing a startup for scale means investing in the right technology today to underpin growth for tomorrow and beyond.
It will get you going in the right direction, but you need to think even farther ahead. Designing a startup for scale means investing in the right technology today to underpin growth for tomorrow and beyond. Let’s look at how you approach and manage your cloud infrastructure will impact the effectiveness of your teams and your ability to scale.
Adopting cloud is easy, but adopting it properly with best practices and in a secure way? Not so much. You might think that when you move to cloud, the cloud providers will give you everything you need to succeed. But even though they’re there to provide a wide breadth of services, these services won’t necessarily have the depth that you will need to run efficiently and effectively.
Yes, your cloud infrastructure is working now, but think beyond the first prototype or alpha and toward production. Considering where you want to get to, and not just where you are, will help you avoid costly mistakes. You definitely don’t want to struggle through redefining processes and ways of working when you’re also managing time sensitivities and multiple teams.
If you don’t think ahead, you’ll have to put all new processes in. It will take a whole lot longer, cost more money and cause a lot more disruption to teams than if you do it earlier.
For any founder, making strategic technology decisions right now should be a primary concern. It feels more natural to put off those decisions until you come face to face with the problem, but you’ll just end up needing to redo everything as you scale and cause your teams a world of hurt. If you don’t give this problem attention at the beginning, you’re just scaling the problems with the team. Flaws are then embedded within your infrastructure, and they’ll continue to scale with the teams. When these things are rushed, corners are cut and you will end up spending even more time and money on your infrastructure.
When you’re making strategic decisions on how to approach your technology stack and cloud infrastructure, the biggest consideration should be what makes an effective team. Given that, keep these things top of mind:
Microsoft continues to expand its global Azure data center presence at a rapid clip. After announcing new regions in Austria and Taiwan in October, the company today revealed its plans to launch a new region in Denmark.
As with many of Microsoft’s recent announcements, the company is also attaching a commitment to provide digital skills to 200,000 people in the country (in this case, by 2024).
“With this investment, we’re taking the next step in our longstanding commitment to provide Danish society and businesses with the digital tools, skills and infrastructure needed to drive sustainable growth, innovation, and job creation. We’re investing in Denmark’s digital leap into the future – all in a way that supports the country’s ambitious climate goals and economic recovery,” said Nana Bule, general manager, Microsoft Denmark.
The new data center, which will be powered by 100% renewable energy and feature multiple availability zones, will feature support for what has now become the standard set of Microsoft cloud products: Azure, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365 and Power Platform.
As usual, the idea here is to provide low-latency access to Microsoft’s tools and services. It has long been Microsoft’s strategy to blanket the globe with local data centers. Europe is a prime example of this, with regions (both operational and announced) in about a dozen countries already. In the U.S., Azure currently offers 13 regions (including three exclusively for government agencies), with a new region on the West Coast coming soon.
“This is a proud day for Microsoft in Denmark,” said Brad Smith, president, Microsoft. “Building a hyper-scale datacenter in Denmark means we’ll store Danish data in Denmark, make computing more accessible at even faster speeds, secure data with our world-class security, protect data with Danish privacy laws, and do more to provide to the people of Denmark our best digital skills training. This investment reflects our deep appreciation of Denmark’s green and digital leadership globally and our commitment to its future.”
With the Data Localization Suite, Cloudflare is making it easier to control where your data is stored and if you’re authorized to view data depending on where you are accessing it from. It’s a feature that lets you take advantage of Cloudflare’s products, such as serverless infrastructure, while complying with local and industry-specific regulation.
For instance, the Data Localization Suite seems particularly relevant following this year’s EU ruling that ended the Privacy Shield. If you’re operating in a highly regulated industry, such as healthcare and legal, you may have some specific data requirements as well.
Let’s say you’re building an application that should store data in the European Union exclusively. You could choose to run your application in a single data center, or a single cloud region. But that doesn’t scale well if you expect to get customers all around the world. You could also suffer from outages.
With Cloudflare’s approach, everything is encrypted at rest and in transit (if you enforce mandatory TLS encryption). You can choose to manage your private keys yourself, or you can choose to set different rules for your private keys.
For instance, a private key that lets you inspect traffic could be accessible from a European data center exclusively. Now that the Privacy Shield is invalid, this setup makes it easier to comply with European regulation.
Cloudflare inspects network requests in order to know what to do with them. For instance, the company tries to reject malicious bot requests automatically. You can choose to inspect those requests in a region in particular. If a malicious bot is running on a server in the U.S., the request will be sent to the closest Cloudflare data center in the U.S., routed to a data center in Europe and then inspected.
As for traffic logs and metadata, you can use Edge Log Delivery to send logs directly from Cloudflare’s edge network to a storage bucket or an on-premise data center. It doesn’t transit through Cloudflare’s core data centers at all.
Finally, if you’re using the recently announced Cloudflare Workers Durable Objects, you can configure jurisdiction restriction. If you run an app on Cloudflare’s serverless infrastructure, you can choose to avoid storing durable objects in some locations for regulation purposes.
As you can see, there are several tools and services in the Data Localization Suite. Some of them have already been live and others are brand new. But it’s interesting to see that Cloudflare is thinking about locality even though it thinks serverless computing and edge data centers are the future.
For much of its existence, Salesforce was a cloud service on its own with its own cloud resources available for its customers, but as the company and cloud computing in general has evolved, Salesforce has moved some of its workloads to other clouds like AWS, Azure and Google. Now, it wants to allow customers to do the same.
To help facilitate that, the company announced Hyperforce today at its Dreamforce customer conference, a new architecture designed from the ground up to help customers deliver workloads to the public cloud of choice.
The idea behind Hyperforce is to enable customers to take all of the data in what Salesforce calls Customer 360 — that’s the company’s detailed view of the customer across channels, Salesforce products and even other systems outside the Salesforce family — and be able to store that in whichever public cloud you want in whatever region you happen to operate. For now, they are in India and Germany, but there are plans to add support for 10 additional countries over the next year.
Company president and CTO Bret Taylor introduced the new approach. “We call this new capability Hyperforce. Simply put, we’ve been working to enable us to deliver Salesforce on public cloud infrastructure all around the world,” Taylor said.
Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says the underlying architecture running the Salesforce system is long overdue for an overhaul. At over 20 years old, it’s been around a long time now, but Mueller says that it’s about more than modernizing. “The pandemic requires SaaS vendors to move their offerings from their own data centers to [public cloud] data centers, so they can offer both architectural and commercial elasticity to their customers,” he said.
Mueller added that by bringing Salesforce data into the public cloud, besides the obvious data sovereignty issues it solves, it bring all of the advantages of using public cloud resources.
“Salesforce can now offer both architectural and commercial elasticity to their customers. Commercial elasticity matters a lot to CIOs and CTOs these days because when your business slows down, you pay less, and when your business accelerates, then you can afford to pay more,” he said. He says that Salesforce is bringing an early generation SaaS product and pulling it into the modern age, something that is imperative at this point in the company’s evolution.
But while moving forward, Taylor was careful to point out that they rebuilt the system in such a way as to be fully backwards compatible, so you don’t have to throw out all of the applications and investment you’ve made over the years, something that most companies couldn’t afford to do.”For you developers out there, This is the most remarkable thing. It is 100% backwards compatible, your apps will work with no changes and you can benefit from all of this automatically,” he said.
The company will be rolling out Hyperforce over the next year and beyond as it opens in more regions.
Fylamynt, a new service that helps businesses automate their cloud workflows, today announced both the official launch of its platform as well as a $6.5 million seed round. The funding round was led by Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund. Mango Capital and Point72 Ventures also participated.
At first glance, the idea behind Fylamynt may sound familiar. Workflow automation has become a pretty competitive space, after all, and the service helps developers connect their various cloud tools to create repeatable workflows. We’re not talking about your standard IFTTT- or Zapier -like integrations between SaaS products, though. The focus of Fylamynt is squarely on building infrastructure workflows. While that may sound familiar, too, with tools like Ansible and Terraform automating a lot of that already, Fylamynt sits on top of those and integrates with them.
“Some time ago, we used to do Bash and scripting — and then [ … ] came Chef and Puppet in 2006, 2007. SaltStack, as well. Then Terraform and Ansible,” Fylamynt co-founder and CEO Pradeep Padala told me. “They have all done an extremely good job of making it easier to simplify infrastructure operations so you don’t have to write low-level code. You can write a slightly higher-level language. We are not replacing that. What we are doing is connecting that code.”
So if you have a Terraform template, an Ansible playbook and maybe a Python script, you can now use Fylamynt to connect those. In the end, Fylamynt becomes the orchestration engine to run all of your infrastructure code — and then allows you to connect all of that to the likes of DataDog, Splunk, PagerDuty Slack and ServiceNow.
The service currently connects to Terraform, Ansible, Datadog, Jira, Slack, Instance, CloudWatch, CloudFormation and your Kubernetes clusters. The company notes that some of the standard use cases for its service are automated remediation, governance and compliance, as well as cost and performance management.
The company is already working with a number of design partners, including Snowflake.
Fylamynt CEO Padala has quite a bit of experience in the infrastructure space. He co-founded ContainerX, an early container-management platform, which later sold to Cisco. Before starting ContainerX, he was at VMWare and DOCOMO Labs. His co-founders, VP of Engineering Xiaoyun Zhu and CTO David Lee, also have deep expertise in building out cloud infrastructure and operating it.
“If you look at any company — any company building a product — let’s say a SaaS product, and they want to run their operations, infrastructure operations very efficiently,” Padala said. “But there are always challenges. You need a lot of people, it takes time. So what is the bottleneck? If you ask that question and dig deeper, you’ll find that there is one bottleneck for automation: that’s code. Someone has to write code to automate. Everything revolves around that.”
Fylamynt aims to take the effort out of that by allowing developers to either write Python and JSON to automate their workflows (think “infrastructure as code” but for workflows) or to use Fylamynt’s visual no-code drag-and-drop tool. As Padala noted, this gives developers a lot of flexibility in how they want to use the service. If you never want to see the Fylamynt UI, you can go about your merry coding ways, but chances are the UI will allow you to get everything done as well.
One area the team is currently focusing on — and will use the new funding for — is building out its analytics capabilities that can help developers debug their workflows. The service already provides log and audit trails, but the plan is to expand its AI capabilities to also recommend the right workflows based on the alerts you are getting.
“The eventual goal is to help people automate any service and connect any code. That’s the holy grail. And AI is an enabler in that,” Padala said.
Gradient Ventures partner Muzzammil “MZ” Zaveri echoed this. “Fylamynt is at the intersection of applied AI and workflow automation,” he said. “We’re excited to support the Fylamynt team in this uniquely positioned product with a deep bench of integrations and a nonprescriptive builder approach. The vision of automating every part of a cloud workflow is just the beginning.”
The team, which now includes about 20 employees, plans to use the new round of funding, which closed in September, to focus on its R&D, build out its product and expand its go-to-market team. On the product side, that specifically means building more connectors.
The company offers both a free plan as well as enterprise pricing and its platform is now generally available.
Jitsu, a graduate of the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort, is developing an open source data integration platform that helps developers send data to a data warehouse. Today, the startup announced a $2 million seed investment.
Costanoa Ventures led the round with participation from YCombintaor, The House Fund and SignalFire.
In addition to the open source version of the software, the company has developed a hosted version that companies can pay to use, which shares the same name as the company. Peter Wysinski, Jitsu’s co-founder and CEO, says a good way to think about his company is an open source Segment, the customer data integration company that was recently sold to Twilio for $3.2 billion.
But he says, it goes beyond what Segment by allowing you to move all kinds of data whether customer data, connected device data or other types. “If you look at the space in general, companies want more granularity. So let’s say for example, a couple years ago you wanted to sync just your transactions from QuickBooks to your data warehouse, now you want to capture every single sale at the point of sale. What Jitsu lets you do is capture essentially all of those events, all of those streams, and send them to your data warehouse,” Wysinski explained.
Among the data warehouses it currently supports include Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostGres and Snowflake.
The founders built the open source project called EventNative to help solve problems they themselves were having moving data around at their previous jobs. After putting the open source version on GitHub a few months ago, they quickly attained 1000 stars, proving that they had delivered something that solved a common problem for data teams. They then built the hosted version, Jitsu, which went live a couple of weeks ago.
For now, the company is just the two co-founders, Wysinski and CTO Vladimir Klimontovich, but they intend to do some preliminary hiring over the next year to grow the company, most likely adding engineers. As they begin to build out the startup, Wysinski says that being open source will help drive diversity and inclusion in their hiring.
“The goal is essentially to go after that open source community and hire people from anywhere because engineers aren’t just […] one color or one race, they’re everywhere, and being open source, and especially being in a remote world, makes it so so much simpler [to build a diverse workforce], and a lot of companies I feel are going down that road,” he said.
He says along that line, the plan is to be a fully remote company, even after the pandemic ends, as they hire from anywhere. The goal is to have quarterly offsite meetings to check in with employees, but do the majority of the work remotely.