Zapier Opens Its Developer Platform, Gives The Everyday Joe A Way To Connect APIs



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Zapier, a platform for connecting apps to automate tasks, has been constrained to some extent by the limitations for integrating third-party services. That has changed with Zapier’s update to its developer platform that the company announced this week.


The change is noteworthy for, if nothing else, how it opens systems so apps can talk to each other and data can be exchanged to enable people to get their work done more easily. Connecting apps also helps decompose entrenched, on-premise technologies. The data can be pulled out and used in ways that were not possible before.


Zapier is one of those services that turns a trigger into an action. For example, you can use Zapier to get a notification when a web page gets updated. A photo sent to a social network can also be delivered to a Dropbox account using the service.


Now any service with an API can be added to Zapier. Furthermore, Zapier can also now do multiple API calls for each trigger or action. That opens the possibilities for businesses to use the service to connect information from multiple departments such as sales and finance.


Zapier currently has 262 services that can be connected. Gmail, MailChimp, Dropbox and Salesforce are some of the services it offers. Last August, Zapier launched its developer platform. Since then, 141 services have been added. Over the past six months, the Zapier team rebuilt the developer platform with Backbone.js to make it faster for people to use.




The new platform has two major new features, said Zapier Co-Founder Wade Foster in a phone interview this week. Until now, only services with specific authentication capabilities could be added to Zapier. These were sophisticated apps such as Google Docs and Twilio that had fine-grained authentication features.


Zapier has now engineered the new platform to allow the most common API authentication methods out of the box. That opens a huge landscape of apps that have APIs but do not necessarily have the authentication requirements needed for integration into the Zapier platform. It means a developer or even non-coder can add any services that have an API. These can be made publicly available or used internally for connecting different on-premise environments such as CRM and ERP systems.


In this example, Etsy is added to the Zapier platform:


A scripting engine that sits in front of the API for connecting services is also available, Foster said. This allows a developer to pull data from multiple sources. That’s opposed to traditional APIs that just connect two points. With the new capability, a service can call multiple apps and return information that draws from the different services or data sources.


For example, invoice data and customer sales contact information may be in two separate silos. With the new features, a developer from Zapier can access both through one API.


For too long, IT has been a maze of data silos. With Zapier, IT now has a new capability, said Chris Dancy, who works in the CTO’s office at BMC Software. It means someone can connect SAP and Oracle data, opening all kinds of possibilities. A lot has been made of “Shadow IT,” which has helped with the rise of SaaS and the ability for anyone to get their work done with ready-to-use services.


“Inception (like the movie) IT is when assistants, factory workers and everyday Joes user API wrappers to change the very fabric of the organization,” Dancy said in an email interview. ”It gives assistants, factory workers and everyday Joes API wrappers to change the very fabric of the organization. “There’s a need for more ways to connect disparate forms of information so people can connect in new ways. Zapier’s developer platform is an example of how close we are to having ways to connect data sources that before would have required a team of engineers to do a custom integration that not only would have cost millions but most likely would be pretty much useless, too.

We are now witnessing a new fabric emerging, consisting of data networks that are connected via APIs. The next step is ease-of-use, which means better API design and the ability to do instant data analytics that gives the everyday joe the ability to create their own recommendation engines and connected networks that have traditionally been the domain of developers. Welcome to the age of Inception IT.

(Feature image via Flickr)

Disclaimer: I do a podcast with Chris Dancy and Wired writer and TechCrunch contributor Klint Finley. We talk about cyborgs and APIs.

Apple Settles With FTC After Kids Blow Millions On The App Store


Kids do the darndest things, but in this case, Apple didn’t do enough to inform parents about how the App Store works.


Dave Smith January 15, 2014 Mobile



Apple agreed to settle with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday after a formal complaint said the company was billing customers for millions of dollars worth of App Store purchases made by children without their parents’ consent.

The initial complaint, filed January 15, alleged Apple was in violation of the FTC Act by not informing parents that once they initially entered their Apple ID username and password combination to purchase an app or an in-app item, their iOS device would approve any further purchases for the next 15 minutes without asking for further authorization.

The FTC said in its complaint that Apple did not inform iOS App Store users about the 15-minute window that allows for unlimited charges, and as a result, Apple received tens of thousands of complaints about unauthorized purchases made by children. In one case, a little girl spent $2,600 worth of in-app purchases in the game “Tap Pet Hotel,” while the report mentioned other children making purchases totaling over $500 in apps like “Tiny Zoo Friends” and “Dragon Story.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a letter to his staff about the settlement, which was procured by Re/code. In the letter, Cook defended the App Store’s 15-minute policy, claiming it was originally “aimed at making the App Store easy to use.” But after parents discovered their children racked up credit card charges in free games that offered in-app purchases and subsequently filed a class action lawsuit in 2011, Apple “moved quickly to make improvements,” even adding a few additional steps to the purchasing process in the App Store.

Last year, we set out to refund any in-app purchase which may have been made without a parent’s permission. We wanted to reach every customer who might have been affected, so we sent emails to 28 million App Store customers – anyone who had made an in-app purchase in a game designed for kids. When some emails bounced, we mailed the parents postcards. In all, we received 37,000 claims and we will be reimbursing each one as promised.

Apple settled its class action lawsuit last February, offering iTunes credits to parents and the option to receive a cash refund for claims over $30. But the FTC decided to step in anyway.

“It doesn’t feel right for the FTC to sue over a case that had already been settled,” Cook said in his letter. “To us, it smacked of double jeopardy. However, the consent decree the FTC proposed does not require us to do anything we weren’t already going to do, so we decided to accept it rather than take on a long and distracting legal fight.”

Apple agreed to provide full refunds to parents affected by their children’s purchases, promising a payout of at least $32.5 million. As part of the deal, the company has until March 31 to reform its billing practices. Apple in the future must also offer an option shut down the 15-minute authorization window that allows app users to buy in-app purchases without entering credentials.

“This settlement is a victory for consumers harmed by Apple’s unfair billing, and a signal to the business community: whether you’re doing business in the mobile arena or the mall down the street, fundamental consumer protections apply,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “You cannot charge consumers for purchases they did not authorize.”

Image via Cristiano Betta on Flickr

Amazon’s Next Big Thing: Predictive Shipping

Selena Larson January 17, 2014 Web

Amazon’s latest expedited shipping idea is a little more believable than drone delivery. In December, the company received a patent for what it calls “a method and system for anticipatory package shipping.”

First noted by the Wall Street Journal, Amazon says it will be able to predict a customer’s purchase based on a variety of factors, including shopping history, wish lists, and when new products in a series are released.

Fantastic For iPhone Is A Smart, Social Music Player That Learns What You Like & Suggests Nearby Shows



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Grokr, a company that had previously been working on a sort of “Google Now”-like application for iOS users, is launching its latest creation called Fantastic into public beta today. The new app, a smart music player for iOS devices, lets you not only play your own music, but discover new artists and tracks you may be interested in, as well as new videos, upcoming concerts and more.


What Happened To Grokr, The “Google Now for iOS?”


Fantastic takes advantage of the same technology Grokr had built for its flagship application released in late 2012, before quietly shutting down sometime last summer. At the time, we had heard reports that the company being acquired by Apple, but, as it turns out, that was not the case. We understand now, according to sources, that while Grokr had indeed engaged in discussions with Apple and other large internet companies, the team decided to instead shift away from its original product to focus on a series of single-purpose apps instead.


Asked why, co-founder and CEO at Grokr Labs Srivats Sampath says they realized that people were having trouble understanding the use case for Grokr because it was so broad.


“They had no idea what the app did or for what reason they needed to go into the app. It was very eye-opening for us,” he explains. “And when we spoke with the Google Now guys, they gave us similar feedback: it’s one thing to build a platform, but it’s another to try to sell that platform as an app,” Sampath adds.


event_in_streamSo the Sunnyvale-based team went back to the drawing board, instead of opting for the exit. Sampath, who was previously founder and CEO of, Discussion Corporations, and Mercora in years past, says that he has learned not to give up too soon. “This is my fifth company. Out of five companies, two went public and two went under,” he says. “Plus, ninety percent of success is just surviving.” Putting his money where his mouth is, so to speak, Sampath personally invested another half a million into Grokr last June.


Grokr had been going in the right direction in terms of the larger trend of predictive search, but now the company is going to take advantage of the underlying technology to build a series of new applications. After Fantastic, they’ll release other “smart” apps, like, perhaps, a smart news reader, video player and smart browser.


Fantastic, A Smart Music Player And Discovery Service


Fantastic, however, is the first out of the gate, as it was already something lead developer (and music lover) John Brunsfeld had already created as a side project. He had built an app that used the Grokr platform to allow him to find out about new music and concerts. Today, the more polished Fantastic app, now in public beta, does the same.


After installation, you tell Fantastic whether to reference your iTunes library or your Spotify Premium account. Then, using this data, as well as social data, location data and more, Fantastic will offer a real-time music feed detailing new and upcoming releases, nearby concerts, YouTube videos, trending Facebook posts, tweets, and articles about your music, as well as what your friends on the service are saying about a track or an artist.


queue“Essentially, what the platform does is it learns everything about you,” explains Sampath, “and then it takes that and applies that to a knowledge graph – in this case, we have a massive knowledge graph of music-related, event-related, and artist-related information.”


The end result is an app that, in theory, will tell you want you need to know about the music you like and related events.


For obvious reasons, the app works better if your Spotify account reflects your own tastes, and not those of, say, your partner or kids who may also be using your same account. But over time, the service can learn more about you as you play tracks, which should improve the relevance of its suggestions.


Fantastic has been in private beta since September, and now earns around $0.65 in album sales per user per month – basically, half a single. But the company’s goal is to increase that to $1.50. It could also push users toward ticket sales to generate additional revenue.


Going forward, Grokr’s team is also shooting for one new app per quarter, including things like the iPad release and Android release of Fantastic, which will arrive before any other smart applications. (Unless, of course, one starts really blowing up during a private beta test).


Fantastic is free download here in iTunes.

Protect Yourself From The NSA With WireOver’s Encrypted File Sharing



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Nothing is truly NSA-proof or hacker-proof, but WireOver wants to offer you more security than Dropbox, Google Drive, or Skydrive. The Y Combinator startup just emerged from stealth with a desktop app that lets you send files of any size for free. And for $10 a month, your transfers get end-to-end encryption so only the recipient can open them. WireOver can’t even look at what you’re sending.


If you just want to send huge video files or photo collections to friends and aren’t worried about encryption, WireOver is totally free for unlimited file-size sharing. But its premium level of privacy could be a big draw for anyone with sensitive files to send.


ReceivedWireOver co-founder Trent Ashburn tells me there are security holes in the way big file storage and sharing providers transfer your stuff. “In the industry it’s called encryption in transit and encryption at rest. But the files arrive on the servers decrypted. Their servers will re-encrypt them and store them, but the encryption keys used are controlled by and accessed by the provider.”


Ashburn tells me there’s a risk of the same company having both a copy of your encrypted files and the key to open them. But with WireOver’s end-to-end encryption, files are never stored on its servers, and it doesn’t have the decryption key. “The approach we’re going for is ‘Trust No One’”.


WireOver Co-Founder Trent Ashburn

WireOver Co-Founder Trent Ashburn


Ashburn spent several years building computational models for quantitative hedge funds before becoming a semi-pro cyclist. He wanted to start a company he could relate to, and he found he was having some trouble with file transfers.


“With Dropbox, Google Drive, and Skydrive, sending small and medium-size files is pretty much solved but it’s a pain to send big files securely. There’a bunch of things that Dropbox works great for [like syncing]. And they do their best within their goals to have security, but they’re not trying to be the most secure tool. They’re trying to be your files everywhere.”


So Ashburn and his co-founder Amit Bansil entered Y Combinator. They built a bunch of failed prototypes before settling on a Python-based desktop client. Along with the YC funding it got from Andreessen Horowitz, SV Angel, and Yuri Milner, the four-person startup has raised an additional seed round from Bessemer Venture Partners, Boston’s .406 Ventures, and angels like BrandCast’s Hayes Metzger.


How To Use WireOver


Once you’ve installed WireOver, you just dump files into its little window, and type in the email address of the recipient[s]. Once they have WireOver installed and running, the file is transferred completely peer-to-peer, or routed by WireOver’s servers but isn’t stored there.


How to UseIf you select “Secure” transfer and both you and receiver have paid the $10 a month fee, your file gets end-to-end encryption. For even more security again man-in-the-middle attacks, you can request to verify the recipient’s machine’s crytopgraphic fingerprint.


The big downside to WireOver using a transfer system rather than cloud storage is that both the sender and recipient have to be online at the same time. You can just upload a file, email someone a link, and shut off your computer.


But since WireOver doesn’t store files, it doesn’t have to charge for unencrypted transfers. That means you could send 200 gigabyte or even terrabyte-sized files for free, which could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars a year on Dropbox, Drive, or SkyDrive. If you’re looking for security and privacy, WireOver might be worth the $10 a month.


Ashburn says some clients have switched to WireOver from sending physical hard drives and USB drives through the mail or with FedEx. While there are other encrypted file sharing services, we haven’t found any popular ones that offer unlimited file sizes for free, or encryption of those files for as cheap.


Companies large and small are seeing their data fall into the hands of hackers, and we’re realizing our governments are engaging in widespread surveillance. Meanwhile, as our cameras get better and our screens get bigger, file sizes just keep going up. So whether you’re paranoid or just want to send all your photos to mom, WireOver understands.

Facebook Is Still Copying Twitter—This Time With Its ‘Trending’ Feature

Maybe a character-length limit is next.

Selena Larson January 16, 2014

Today Facebook announced “Trending,” a new feature that puts a list of trending topics in the top right corner of the News Feed. The company began testing this feature last fall, and is now rolling it out to a larger audience.

Users in the U.S., UK, India and Australia will begin to see the list of trending topics accompanied by a brief explanation of why they are trending. You can then select any headline to see on-topic posts from people or pages, and those you are connected with will rank higher in the feed.

You may already be familiar with the trending topic feature on Twitter. Trending topics appear as links to the left of Twitter timelines on desktop and under the “Discover” tab on mobile, and when clicked, users can view a timeline of tweets containing the trending word or phrase.

Similar to Twitter, Facebook’s trends are reflective of what’s being talked about on the service and are constantly updating. “Trending” is only available on desktop for now.

This update is the latest in a slew of Twitter features Facebook has implemented in the past. The social network also recently introduced hashtags and embeddable posts, two favored features on Twitter.

Why I’m Not Afraid of Rejection

If your fear of being rejected is preventing you from taking a risk, whether it be career or relationship related, don’t let it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always “No.” And if the answer is “No,” well you’ll just be back in the same place as if you hadn’t asked. So why not risk it?

Work Rejection

Whether it is your project proposal getting shut down or a “Thanks for applying, but…” email from a job you want, there are a variety of situations related to work when you can be rejected. This can be discouraging and perhaps you’ll feel like you should give up. Don’t! Just because one time your idea or application wasn’t accepted, doesn’t mean you don’t have something to offer next time. Keep thinking of solutions, keep applying to positions you want, keep taking steps towards what you want. Doing nothing after an initial rejection will never help you succeed, trying again might.

Relationship Rejection

I don’t just mean romantic relationships either, this encompasses potential friendships, networking connections, mentors, and even family. When you feel a connection to someone, naturally you want to pursue it, but sometimes the feeling isn’t mutual. I always try to give the person a semi-graceful way to bow out of exchanging contact information, making someone feel pressured into interacting with you is no way to develop a healthy and worthwhile exchange. Much of the time when someone rejects you, it has nothing to do with you personally. There are often outside influences that result in them severing the relationship between you two. Often there is nothing you could’ve done differently that would have changed their mind. Of course you should acknowledge how this makes you feel, but try to step outside of it as well, put it into perspective and move on. After all, no matter how you felt in the moment, in reality you’ll be fine whether they stick around or not.

Sidenote: Do not employ the same technique of trying again as in the work rejection situation. You need to respect people’s right to not want to connect with you.

What To Do About It

You could get angry, defensive. Or you can turn that negative emotion into something better by accepting what has happened and going forward. In terms of work, re-evaluate what didn’t get your idea accepted and then improve it. In terms of relationships, ask yourself, do you really want to try and pursue having someone in your life who has made it clear they don’t really want to be there? Personally, I prefer to spend my time and attention cultivating meaningful connections with people who value and respect me as much as I do them.

There’s no way around it, being rejected hurts. Your ego gets a little bruised, maybe you question your worth. That pain is what stops many people from even attempting to get what they want. It is up to you not to let it.

Further Reading

You’re Not Trapped

 — You have a choice.

Importance of Company Culture Fit

 — From the perspective of the individual

On Anxiety: How Changing Your Mindset Makes All the Difference

 — What you think about, you bring about.

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Turning every day into an adventure through constant curiosity. @curious_heather