MindMeld is the conversational AI company that Cisco bought in 2017. The company put the technology to use in Cisco Spark Assistant later that year to help bring voice commands to meeting hardware, which was just beginning to emerge at the time.
Today, there is a concerted effort to bring voice to enterprise use cases, and Cisco is offering the means for developers to do that with the MindMeld tool set. “Today, Cisco is taking a big step towards empowering developers with more comprehensive and practical tools for building conversational applications by open-sourcing the MindMeld Conversational AI Platform,” Cisco’s head of machine learning Karthik Raghunathan wrote in a blog post.
The company also wants to make it easier for developers to get going with the platform, so it is releasing the Conversational AI Playbook, a step-by-step guide book to help developers get started with conversation-driven applications. Cisco says this is about empowering developers, and that’s probably a big part of the reason.
But it would also be in Cisco’s best interest to have developers outside of Cisco working with and on this set of tools. By open-sourcing them, the hope is that a community of developers, whether Cisco customers or others, will begin using, testing and improving the tools; helping it to develop the platform faster and more broadly than it could, even inside an organization as large as Cisco.
Of course, just because they offer it doesn’t necessarily automatically mean the community of interested developers will emerge, but given the growing popularity of voice-enabled used cases, chances are some will give it a look. It will be up to Cisco to keep them engaged.
Cisco is making all of this available on its own DevNet platform starting today.
What is Niantic? If they recognize the name, most people would rightly tell you it’s a company that makes mobile games, like Pokémon GO, or Ingress, or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
But no one at Niantic really seems to box it up as a mobile gaming company. Making these games is a big part of what the company does, yes, but the games are part of a bigger picture: they are a springboard, a place to figure out the constraints of what they can do with augmented reality today, and to figure out how to build the tech that moves it forward. Niantic wants to wrap their learnings back into a platform upon which others can build their own AR products, be it games or something else. And they want to be ready for whatever comes after smartphones.
Niantic is a bet on augmented reality becoming more and more a part of our lives; when that happens, they want to be the company that powers it.
This is Part 3 of our EC-1 series on Niantic, looking at its past, present, and potential future. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The reading time for this article is 24 minutes (6,050 words)
The platform play
After the absurd launch of Pokémon GO, everyone wanted a piece of the AR pie. Niantic got more pitches than they could take on, I’m told, as rights holders big and small reached out to see if the company might build something with their IP or franchise.
But Niantic couldn’t build it all. From art, to audio, to even just thinking up new gameplay mechanics, each game or project they took on would require a mountain of resources. What if they focused on letting these other companies build these sorts of things themselves?
That’s the idea behind Niantic’s Real World Platform. This platform is a key part of Niantic’s game plan moving forward, with the company having as many people working on the platform as it has on its marquee money maker, Pokémon GO.
There are tons of pieces that go into making things like GO or Ingress, and Niantic has spent the better part of the last decade figuring out how to make them all fit together. They’ve built the core engine that powers the games and, after a bumpy start with Pokémon GO’s launch, figured out how to scale it to hundreds of millions of users around the world. They’ve put considerable work into figuring out how to detect cheaters and spoofers and give them the boot. They’ve built a social layer, with systems like friendships and trade. They’ve already amassed that real-world location data that proved so challenging back when it was building Field Trip, with all of those real-world points of interest that now serve as portals and Pokéstops.
Niantic could help other companies with real-world events, too. That might seem funny after the mess that was the first Pokémon GO Fest (as detailed in Part II). But Niantic turned around, went back to the same city the next year, and pulled it off. That experience — that battle-testing — is valuable. Meanwhile, the company has pulled off countless huge Ingress events, and a number of Pokémon GO side events called “Safari Zones.” CTO Phil Keslin confirmed to me that event management is planned as part of the platform offering.
As Niantic builds new tech — like, say, more advanced AR or faster ways to sync AR experiences between devices — it’ll all get rolled into the platform. With each problem they solve, the platform offering would grow.
But first they need to prove that there’s a platform to stand on.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
Niantic’s platform, as it exists today, is the result of years of building their own games. It’s the collection of tools they’ve built and rebuilt along the way, and that already powers Ingress Prime and Pokémon GO. But to prove itself as a platform company, Niantic needs to show that they can do it again. That they can take these engines, these tools, and, working with another team, use them for something new.
When we think of enterprise SaaS companies today, just about every startup in the space aspires to be a platform. That means they want people using their stack of services to build entirely new applications, either to enhance the base product, or even build entirely independent companies. But when Salesforce launched Force.com, the company’s Platform as a Service, in 2007, there wasn’t any model.
It turns out that Force.com was actually the culmination of a series of incremental steps after the launch of the first version of Salesforce in February, 2000, all of which were designed to make the software more flexible for customers. Company co-founder and CTO Parker Harris says they didn’t have this goal to be a platform early on. “We were a solution first, I would say. We didn’t say ‘let’s build a platform and then build sales-force automation on top of it.’ We wanted a solution that people could actually use,” Harris told TechCrunch.
The march toward becoming a full-fledged platform started with simple customization. That first version of Salesforce was pretty basic, and the company learned over time that customers didn’t always use the same language it did to describe customers and accounts — and that was something that would need to change.
Customizing the product
The growth of augmented and virtual reality applications and hardware is ushering in a new age of digital media and imaging technologies, and startups that are putting themselves at the center of that are attracting interest.
TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Matterport, which started out making cameras but has since diversified into a wider platform to capture, create, search and utilise 3D imagery of interior and enclosed spaces in immersive real estate, design, insurance and other B2C and B2B applications, has raised $ 48 million. Sources tell us the money came at a pre-money valuation of around $ 325 million, although the company is not commenting on that.
From what we understand, the funding is coming ahead of a larger growth round from existing and new investors, to tap into what they see as a big opportunity for building and providing (as a service) highly accurate 3D images of enclosed spaces.
The company in December appointed a new CEO, RJ Pittman — who had been the chief product officer at eBay, and before that held executive roles at Apple and Google — also to help fill out that bigger strategy.
Matterport had raised just under $ 63 million prior to this and had been valued at around $ 207 million, according to PitchBook estimates.This current round is coming from existing backers, which include Lux Capital, DCM, Qualcomm Ventures and more.
Matterport’s roots are in high-end cameras built to capture multiple images to create 3D interior imagery for a variety of applications from interior design and real estate to gaming. Changing tides in the worlds of industry and hardware have somewhat shifted its course.
On the hardware side, we’ve seen a rise in the functionality of smartphone cameras, as well as a proliferation of specialised 3D cameras at lower price points. So while Matterport still sells its own high-end cameras, it is also starting to work with less expensive devices with spherical lenses — such as the Ricoh Theta, which is nearly 10 times less expensive than Matterport’s Pro2 camera — and smartphones.
Using an AI engine — which it has been building for some time — packaged into a service it calls Matterport Cloud 3.0, it converts 2D panoramic and 360-degree images into 3D ones. (Matterport Cloud 3.0 is currently in beta and will be launching fully on the 18th of March, initially supporting the Ricoh Theta V, the Theta Z1, the Insta360 ONE X, and the Leica Geosystems BLK360 laser scanner.)
Matterport is further using this technology to grow its wider database of images. It already has racked up 1.6 million 3D images and millions of 2D images, and at its current growth rate, the aim is to expand its library to 100 million in the coming years, positioning it as a Getty for 3D enclosed images.
These, in turn, will be used in two ways: to feed Matterport’s machine learning to train it to create better and faster 3D images; and to become part of a wider library, accessible to other businesses by way of a set of APIs.
And, from what I understand, the object will not just to be use images as they are: people would be able to manipulate the images to, for example, remove all the furniture in a room and re-stage it completely without needing to physically do that work ahead of listing a house for sale. Another is adding immersive interior shots into mapping applications like Google’s Street View.
“We are a data company,” RJ Pittman told me when I met him for coffee last month.
The ability to convert 2D into 3D images using artificial intelligence to help automate the process is a potentially big area that Matterport, and its investors, believe will be in increasing demand. That’s not just because people still think there will one day be a bigger market for virtual reality headsets, which will need more interesting content; but because we as consumers already have come to expect more realistic and immersive experiences today, even when viewing things on regular screens; and because B2B and enterprise services (for example design or insurance applications) have also grown in sophistication and now require these kinds of images.
(That demand is driving the creation of other kinds of 3D imaging startups, too. Threedy.ai launched last week with a seed round from a number of angels and VCs to perform a similar kind of 2D-to-3D mapping technique for objects rather than interior spaces. It is already working with a number of e-commerce sites to bypass some of the costs and inefficiencies of more established, manual methods of 3D rendering.)
While Matterport is doubling down on its cloud services strategy, it’s also been making some hires to take the business to its next steps. In addition to Pittman, they have included adding Dave Lippman, formerly design head at eBay, as its chief design officer; and engineering veteran Lou Marzano as its VP of hardware, R&D and manufacturing, with more hires to come.
JFrog, the popular DevOps startup now valued at more than $ 1 billion after raising $ 165 million last October, is making a move to expand the tools and services it provides to developers on its software operations platform: it has acquired Shippable, a cloud-based continuous integration and delivery platform (CI/CD) that developers use to ship code and deliver app and microservices updates, and plans to integrate it into its Enterprise+ platform.
Terms of the deal — JFrog’s fifth acquisition — are not being disclosed, said Shlomi Ben Haim, JFrog’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview. From what I understand, though, it was in the ballpark of Shippable’s most recent valuation, which was $ 42.6 million back in 2014 when it raised $ 8 million, according to PitchBook data. (And that was the last time it raised money.)
Shippable employees are joining JFrog and plan to release the first integrations with Enterprise+ this coming summer, and a full integration by Q3 of this year.
Shippable, founded in 2013, made its name early on as a provider of a containerized continuous integration and delivery platform based on Docker containers, but as Kubernetes has overtaken Docker in containerized deployments, the startup had also shifted its focus beyond Docker containers.
The acquisition speaks to the consolidation that is afoot in the world of DevOps, where developers and organizations are looking for more end-to-end toolkits, not just to help develop, update and run their apps and microservices, but to provide security and more — or at least, makers of DevOps tools hope they will be, as they themselves look to grow their margins and business.
As more organizations run ever more of their operations as apps and microservices, DevOps have risen in prominence and are offered both toolkits from standalone businesses as well as those whose infrastructure is touched and used by DevOps tools. That means a company like JFrog has an expanding pool of competitors that include not just the likes of Docker, Sonatype and GitLab, but also AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Azure and “the Red Hats of the world,” in the words of Ben Haim.
For Shippable customers, the integration will give them access to security, binary management and other enterprise development tools.
“We’re thrilled to join the JFrog family and further the vision around Liquid Software,” said Avi Cavale, founder and CEO of Shippable, in a statement. “Shippable users and customers have long enjoyed our next-generation technology, but now will have access to leading security, binary management and other high-powered enterprise tools in the end-to-end JFrog Platform. This is truly exciting, as the combined forces of JFrog and Shippable can make full DevOps automation from code to production a reality.”
On the part of JFrog, the company will be using Shippable to provide a native CI/CD tool directly within JFrog.
“Before most of our users would use Jenkins, Circle CI and other CI/CD automation tools,” Ben Haim said. “But what you are starting to see in the wider market is a gradual consolidation of CI tools into code repository.”
He emphasized that this will not mean any changes for developers who are already happy using Jenkins or other integrations: just that it will now be offering a native solution that will be offered alongside these (presumably both with easier functionality and with competitive pricing).
JFrog today has 5,000 paying customers, up from 4,500 in October, including “most of the Fortune 500,” with marquee customers including the likes of Apple and Adobe, but also banks, healthcare organizations and insurance companies — “conservative businesses,” said Ben Haim, that are also now realizing the importance of using DevOps.
Microsoft and Verizon Media – formerly Oath – recently announced a new partnership making Bing Ads the single global platform for all search advertising campaigns on the AOL and Yahoo networks.
Read more at PPCHero.com
Citizens Reserve, a Bay Area startup, has a broad goal of digitizing the supply chain. Last fall, the company launched the Alpha version of Suku, a Supply Chain as a Service platform built on the blockchain. Today, it announced a partnership with Smartrac, an RFID tag manufacturer, based in Amsterdam, as a key identity piece for the platform.
Companies use RFID to track products from field or factory to market. Eric Piscini, CEO at Citizens says this partnership helps solve a crucial piece of digitizing the supply chain. It provides a way to trace products on their journey to market, and ensure their provenance, whether that is to be sure no labor was exploited in production, environmental standards were maintained or that the products were stored under the proper conditions to ensure freshness.
One of the big issues in track and trace on the supply chain is simply identifying the universe of items in motion across the world at any given moment. RFID tagging provides a way to give each of these items a digital identity, which can be placed on the blockchain to help prevent fraud. Once you have an irrefutable digital identity, it solves a big problem around digitizing the supply chain.
He said this is all part of a broader effort to move the supply chain to the digital realm by building a platform on the blockchain. This not only provides an irrefutable, traceable digital record, it can have all kinds of additional benefits like reducing theft and fraud and ensuring provenance.
There are so many parties involved in this process from farmers and manufacturers to customs authorities to shipping and container companies to logistics companies moving the products to market to the stores that sell the goods. Getting all of the various parties involved in the supply chain to move to a blockchain solution remains a huge challenge.
Today’s partnership offers one way to help build an identity mechanism for the Citizens Reserve solution. The company is also working on other partnerships to help solve other problems like warehouse management and logistics.
The company currently has 11 employees based in Los Gatos, California. It has raised $ 11 million, according to Piscini.
Tumblr, a microblogging service that’s impact on internet culture has been massive and unique, is preparing for a massive change that’s sure to upset many of its millions of users.
On December 17, Tumblr will be banning porn, errr “adult content,” from its site and encouraging users to flag that content for removal. Existing adult content will be set to a “private mode” viewable only to the original poster.
What does “adult content” even mean? Well, according to Tumblr, the ban means the removal of any media that depicts “real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.”
This is a lot more complicated than just deleting some hardcore porn from the site; over the past several years Tumblr has become a hub for communities and artists with more adult themes. This has largely been born out of the fact that adult content has been disallowed from other multimedia-focused social platforms. There are bans on nudity and sexual content on Instagram and Facebook, though Twitter has more relaxed standards.
Why now? The Tumblr app was removed from the iOS app store several weeks ago due to an issue with its content filtering that led the company to issue a statement. “We’re committed to helping build a safe online environment for all users, and we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to media featuring child sexual exploitation and abuse,” the company had detailed. “We’re continuously assessing further steps we can take to improve and there is no higher priority for our team.”
We’ve reached out to Tumblr for further comment.
Update: In a blog post titled “A better, more positive Tumblr,” the company’s CEO Jeff D’Onofrio minimized claims that the content ban was related to recent issues surrounding child porn, and is instead intended to make the platform one “where more people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”
“As Tumblr continues to grow and evolve, and our understanding of our impact on our world becomes clearer, we have a responsibility to consider that impact across different age groups, demographics, cultures, and mindsets,” the post reads. “Bottom line: There are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content. We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.”
The imminent “adult content” ban will not apply to media connected with breastfeeding, birth or more general “health-related situations” like surgery, according to the company.
Tumblr is attempting to make aims to minimize the impact on the site’s artistic community as well, but this level of nuance is going to be incredibly difficult for them to enforce uniformly and will more than likely lead to a lot of frustrated users being told that their content does not qualify as “art.”
Tumblr is also looking to minimize impact on the more artistic storytelling, “such as erotica, nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, such as sculptures and illustrations, are also stuff that can be freely posted on Tumblr.”
I don’t know how much it needs to be reiterated that child porn is a major issue plaguing the web, but a blanket ban on adult content on a platform that has gathered so many creatives working with NSFW themes is undoubtedly going to be a pretty controversial decision for the company.
When we brought together DoubleClick and the Google Analytics 360 Suite under Google Marketing Platform, we knew we had to make some changes to our websites, blogs and social media channels too. Now, the resources you’ve been reading and visiting over the years have been updated to reflect our new brand, so you can find the latest news, tips and more on our advertising and analytics solutions in one spot.
First, you should know that we’ve moved our content and product information to marketingplatform.google.com. You’ll also find product sign-in links there. (Those bookmarks you have for the old DoubleClick and Google Analytics websites should automatically redirect you.)
We’ve also launched new and improved blogs, with information for our product users and enterprise customers. We’ll be regularly updating them with product news and digital marketing insights. Bookmark us.
Of course, you can also connect with Google Marketing Platform on social:
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You’ll find customer stories, major product announcements, research, reports and other advertising and analytics content intended for large enterprises.
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Posted by Karen Budell, Google Analytics team
Cloud Functions, Google’s serverless platform that competes directly with tools like AWS Lambda and Azure Functions from Microsoft, is now generally available, the company announced at its Cloud Next conference in San Francisco today.
Google first announced Cloud Functions back in 2016, so this has been a long beta. Overall, it also always seemed as if Google wasn’t quite putting the same resources behind its serverless play when compared to its major competitors. AWS, for example, is placing a major bet on serverless, as is Microsoft. And there are also plenty of startups in this space, too.
Like all Google products that come out of beta, Cloud Functions is now backed by an SLA and the company also today announced that the service now runs in more regions in the U.S. and Europe.
In addition to these hosted options, Google also today announced its new Cloud Services platform for enterprises that want to run hybrid clouds. While this doesn’t include a self-hosted Cloud Functions option, Google is betting on Kubernetes as the foundation for businesses that want to run serverless applications (and yes, I hate the term ‘serverless,’ too) in their own data centers.