WhatsApp ramps up revenue with global launch of Cloud API and soon, a paid tier for its Business App

WhatsApp is continuing its push into the business market with today’s news it’s launching the WhatsApp Cloud API to all businesses worldwide. Introduced into beta testing last November, the new developer tool is a cloud-based version of the WhatsApp Business API — WhatsApp’s first revenue-generating enterprise product — but hosted on parent company Meta’s infrastructure.

The company had been building out its Business API platform over the past several years as one of the key ways the otherwise free messaging app would make money. Businesses pay WhatsApp on a per-message basis, with rates that vary based on the region and number of messages sent. As of late last year, tens of thousands of businesses were set up on the non-cloud-based version of the Business API including brands like Vodafone, Coppel, Sears Mexico, BMW, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Iberia Airlines, Itau Brazil, iFood, and Bank Mandiri, and others. This on-premise version of the API is free to use.

The cloud-based version, however, aims to attract a market of smaller businesses, and reduces the integration time from weeks to only minutes, the company had said. It is also free.

Businesses integrate the API with their backend systems, where WhatsApp communication is usually just one part of their messaging and communication strategy. They may also want to direct their communications to SMS, other messaging apps, emails, and more. Typically, businesses would work with a solutions provider like Zendeks or Twilio to help facilitate these integrations. Providers during the cloud API beta tests had included Zendesk in the U.S., Take in Brazil, and MessageBird in the E.U.

During Meta’s messaging-focused “Conversations” live event today, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the global, public availability of the cloud-based platform, now called the WhatsApp Cloud API.

“The best business experiences meet people where they are. Already more than 1 billion users connect with a business account across our messaging services every week. They’re reaching out for help, to find products and services, and to buy anything from big-ticket items to everyday goods. And today, I am excited to announce that we’re opening WhatsApp to any business of any size around the world with WhatsApp Cloud API,” he said.

He said the company believes the new API will help businesses, both big and small, be able to connect with more people.

In addition to helping businesses and developers get set up faster than with the on-premise version, Meta says the Cloud API will help partners to eliminate costly server expenses and help them provide customers with quick access to new features as they arrive.

Some businesses may choose to forgo the API and use the dedicated WhatsApp Business app instead. Launched in 2018, the WhatsApp Business App is aimed at smaller businesses that want to establish an official presence on WhatsApp’s service and connect with customers. It provides a set of features that wouldn’t be available to users of the free WhatsApp messaging app, like support automated quick replies, greeting messages, FAQs, away messaging, statistics, and more.

Today, Meta is also introducing new power features for its WhatsApp Business app that will be offered for a fee — like the ability to manage chats across up to 10 devices. The company will also provide new customizable WhatsApp click-to-chat links that help businesses attract customers across their online presence, including of course, Meta’s other applications like Facebook and Instagram.

These will be a part of a forthcoming Premium service for WhatsApp Business app users. Further details, including pricing, will be announced at a later date.

 

Buffalo shooter invited others to his private Discord ‘diary’ 30 minutes before attack

Discord has provided more insight into how the shooter who opened fire in a Buffalo, New York supermarket over the weekend used its service prior to the tragic act of violence.

The shooter, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, is charged with first degree murder in the mass shooting, which left 10 people dead and three injured. In the month leading up to the attack on the Buffalo Tops grocery store, which he researched and selected in an effort to harm as many Black people as possible, he used Discord to document his plans in extreme detail.

According to Discord, the suspected shooter created a private, invite-only server that he used as a “personal diary chat log.” The server had no other members until 30 minutes before the attack began, when a “small group of people” received an invite and joined.

“Before that, our records indicate no other people saw the diary chat log in this private server,” a Discord spokesperson told TechCrunch. TechCrunch reached out to the company for more details about the server’s activity and insight into how it handles moderation for private servers and messages.

Discord, a text and voice chat app, is best known for its large, public messaging rooms but it also allows users to create private, invite-only servers. In updates to the Discord server, which shares a username with the Twitch channel he used to livestream the shooting, the suspect documented his violent, racist views in depth. He also detailed the logistics of how he would carry out the mass shooting, including the gear he would use, his shopping trips leading up to the shooting and his day-of plans.

While it’s unknown what other Discord servers Gendron was active in, he references his activity on the app in the chat logs. “I didn’t even think until now that the people in my discord groups are probably going to get no knock raided by ATF and FBI agents,” he wrote. While Discord served as a kind of digital journal for the atrocities he would later carry out, he also compiled a nearly 200-page screen about his beliefs, weapons and plan to commit violence in Google Docs.

In early May, he expressed concerns that Google might discover his plan for violence in messages sent on the private Discord server. “Ok I’m a bit stressed that a google worker is going to see my manifesto fuck,” he wrote. “WHY did I write it on google docs I should have had some other solution.” Unfortunately, those concerns were unfounded. After the shooting, Google did remove the document for violating its terms of service.

The suspect, who livestreamed the shooting over Twitch, also spent time on 4chan’s /pol/, an infamous sub-message board rife with racism, misogyny and extremism. Unlike mainstream social networks like Discord, 4chan does not do any proactive content moderation and only removes illegal content when required to do so. In Discord chat logs. reviewed by TechCrunch the shooter notes that he “only really turned racist” after encountering white supremacist ideas on 4chan.

Five years ago, Discord was implicated in the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, an open gathering of white supremacists and other far-right extremists that ended with one counter-protester dead. The rally’s participants and organizers came together in private Discord servers to plan the day’s events and discuss the logistics of what would take place in Charlottesville. The company responded by cracking down on a number of servers hosting extremism, though maintained that it did not read messages on private servers.

Like Reddit, most of Discord’s hands-on moderation comes from community moderators within its chat rooms. And like most social companies, Discord relies on a blend of automated content scanning and human moderators. Last year, the company acquired Sentropy, an AI software company that detects and removes online hate and harassment, to bolster those efforts.

In the years following the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Discord successfully sought to distance itself from its association with the far-right extremists and white supremacists who once called the social network home. More recently, Discord has also put some distance between its current brand and its origins as a popular chat app for gamers, reframing itself as an inviting hub for a huge spectrum of thriving online communities.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families,” a Discord spokesperson said of the tragedy in Buffalo, adding that it is assisting law enforcement in the ongoing investigation. “Hate has no place on Discord and we are committed to combating violence and extremism.”

TikTok launches its first creator crediting tool to help video creators cite their inspiration

After years of stolen memes and uncredited dance trends, TikTok today is introducing a new feature that it says will be the first iteration of its creator crediting tools that allow creators to directly tag and credit others using a new button during the publishing process. This button lets creators credit all sorts of inspiration for their content, including dances, jokes, viral sounds, and more — and will help TikTok viewers discover the original creators behind the latest trend by tapping on the credit from the video’s caption.

Larger creators lifting ideas from smaller ones is an issue that’s not limited to TikTok. But as one of the largest social apps on the market, particularly among a younger Gen Z to Millennial demographic, how it approaches the issue of creator recognition matters.

To that end, TikTok says it’s now rolling out a new feature that will allow users to add a credit as part of the publishing process on the app.

Image Credits: TikTok

To access the feature, users will tap on a new “video” icon on the posting page after creating or editing their own video. Once on the video page, users will be able to select a video they have liked, favorited, posted, or that had used the same sound.

After this video is selected, the video tag will be added as a mention in the caption.

Those whose videos were tagged by another creator will then be alerted to this via an alert in their TikTok app Inbox.

Image Credits: TikTok

The feature’s launch follows years of controversy over creator credits and attribution on TikTok.

In particular, TikTok had struggled with some of its top stars sourcing new choreography to perform in their dance videos from creators on other, smaller platforms — like the rival short-form video app Dubsmash, later acquired by Reddit. Many of these unknown creators had helped kick off TikTok’s biggest dance trends in years past, like the Renegade, Backpack Kid, or Shiggy. And many were creators of color, who saw their dances go viral after more famous TikTokers would perform their moves without tagging them as the inspiration. This issue came to a head when The New York Times in 2020 reported on the original creator of the Renegade, then a 14-year-old Atlanta teen, Jalaiah Harmon, who hadn’t received credit for her work after TikTok’s largest creator, Charli D’Amelio, performed her dance for her millions of fans, helping her to further grow her already outsized celebrity status.

The following year, a similar controversy made headlines after TikTok star Addison Rae went on “The Tonight Show” where she taught host Jimmy Fallon a number of popular TikTok dances. Meanwhile, the dances’ original creators, many of whom are Black, remained uncredited in the segment. Later, a number of Black creators went on strike as part of a viral campaign to call attention to the issue of creator credits by refusing to choreograph a dance to Megan Thee Stallion’s latest single.

D’Amelio and some other creators have since begun to handwrite dance credits in their video descriptions, often using the shorthand “dc” for dance credit followed by a tag pointing to the username of the creator. A famous Hollywood choreographer, JaQuel Knight, who made history as the first to copyright his work, has also begun helping other dancers on TikTok get credit for their work too, Vice reported in December.

But dances aren’t the only things being stolen on TikTok. Creators have fielded accusations of stealing everything from cheerleading routines to comedy bits to challenge ideas to music or sounds and much more.

 

A TikTok spokesperson acknowledged the problem with credits on the platform, noting that the culture of credit was “critical” for the community and for  TikTok’s future. “Equitable creator amplification is important for creators, especially the BIPOC creator community,” they added.

Image Credits: TikTok

In an announcement, Director of the Creator Community at TikTok, Kudzi Chikumbu introduced the feature and highlighted other efforts the company has made to help better highlight original creator work on its platform.

Chikumbu pointed to TikTok’s Originators series, launched last October, which showcases trend originators through the app’s Discover List feature. TikTok also recently debuted a TikTok Originators monthly social series highlighting Originators on the platform. In addition, the TikTok Creator Portal includes a “Crediting Creators” section that highlights the importance of attributing trend originators for their work. Here, the company lays out best practices for crediting originators and explains how to find the originators if you aren’t sure who had started a trend.

The use of the new crediting tag could help make it easier for creators to cite their inspiration. However, it still relies on user adoption to work. If a creator wants to lift ideas without credit, they could simply not use the feature.

“It’s important to see a culture of credit take shape across the digital landscape and to support underrepresented creators in being properly credited and celebrated for their work,” said Chikumbu. “We’re eager to see how these new creator crediting tools inspire more creativity and encourage trend attribution across the global TikTok community.”

Facebook and Twitter still can’t contain the Buffalo shooting video

Ten people were murdered this weekend in a racist attack on a Buffalo, New York supermarket. The eighteen-year-old, white supremacist shooter livestreamed his attack on Twitch, the Amazon-owned video game streaming platform. Even though Twitch removed the video two minutes after the violence began, it was still too late — now, gruesome footage of the terrorist attack is openly circulating on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, even after the companies have vowed to take down the video.

On Facebook, some users who flagged the video were notified that the content did not violate its rules. The company told TechCrunch that this was a mistake, adding that it has teams working around the clock to take down videos of the shooting, as well as links to the video hosted on other sites. Facebook said that it is also removing copies of the shooter’s racist screed, and content that praises him.

But when we searched a term as simple as “footage of buffalo shooting” on Facebook, one of the first results featured a 54-second screen recording of the terrorist’s footage. TechCrunch encountered the video an hour after it had been uploaded and reported it immediately. The video wasn’t taken down until three hours after posting, when it had already been viewed over a thousand times.

In theory, this shouldn’t happen. A representative for Facebook told TechCrunch that it added multiple version of the video, as well as the shooter’s racist writings, to a database of violating content, which helps the platform identify, remove and block such content. We asked Facebook about this particular incident, but they did not provide additional details.

“We’re going to continue to learn, to refine our processes, to ensure that we can detect and take down violating content more quickly in the future,” Facebook integrity VP Guy Rosen said in response to a question about why the company struggled to remove copies of the video in an unrelated call on Tuesday.

Reposts of the shooter’s stream were also easy to find on Twitter. In fact, when we typed “buffalo video” into the search bar, Twitter suggested searches like “buffalo video full video graphic,” “buffalo video leaked” and “buffalo video graphic.”

Image Credits: Twitter, screenshot by TechCrunch

We encountered multiple videos of the attack that have been circulating on Twitter for over two days. One such video had over 261,000 views when we reviewed it on Tuesday afternoon.

In April, Twitter enacted a policy that bans individual perpetrators of violent attacks from Twitter. Under this policy, the platform also reserves the right to take down multimedia related to attacks, as well as language from terrorist “manifestos.”

“We are removing videos and media related to the incident. In addition, we may remove Tweets disseminating the manifesto or other content produced by perpetrators,” a spokesperson from Twitter told TechCrunch. The company called this “hateful and discriminatory” content “harmful for society.”

Twitter also claims that some users are attempting to circumvent takedowns by uploading altered or manipulated content related to the attack.

In contrast, video footage of the weekend’s tragedy was relatively difficult to find on YouTube. Basic search terms for the Buffalo shooting video mostly brought up coverage from mainstream news outlets. With the same search terms we used on Twitter and Facebook, we were able to identify a handful of YouTube videos with thumbnails of the shooting that were actually unrelated content once clicked through. On TikTok, TechCrunch identified some posts that directed users to websites where they could watch the video, didn’t find the actual footage on the app in our searches.

Twitch, Twitter and Facebook have stated that they are working with the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism to limit the spread of the video. Twitch and Discord have also confirmed that they are working with government authorities that are investigating the situation. The shooter described his plans for the shooting in detail in a private Discord server prior to the attack.

According to documents reviewed by TechCrunch, the Buffalo shooter decided to broadcast his attack on Twitch because a 2019 anti-semitic shooting at Halle Synagogue remained live on Twitch for over thirty minutes before it was taken down. The shooter considered streaming to Facebook, but opted not to use the platform because he thought users needed to be logged in to watch livestreams.

Facebook has also inadvertently hosted mass shootings that evaded algorithmic detection. The same year as the Halle Synagogue shooting, 50 people were killed in an Islamophobic attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which streamed for 17 minutes. At least three perpetrators of mass shootings, including the suspect in Buffalo, have cited the livestreamed Christchurch massacre as a source of inspiration for their racist attacks.

Facebook noted the day after the Christchurch shootings that it had removed 1.5 million videos of the attack, 1.2 million of which were blocked upon upload. Of course, this begged the question of why Facebook was unable to immediately detect 300,000 of those videos, marking a 20% failure rate.

Judging by how easy it was to locate videos of the Buffalo shooting on Facebook, it seems the platform still has a long way to go.

Robinhood lets users manage their own crypto wallets in push to spur trading

After a difficult first quarter, investing app Robinhood is doubling down on new product launches, particularly in its crypto unit, in hopes they will help buoy the business. CEO Vlad Tenev announced the company’s plans to roll out non-custodial crypto wallets at the Permissionless DeFi conference in Florida today, starting with a waitlist that’s already open.

The market environment has posed challenges for the company as trading volumes have plummeted. Robinhood’s net revenue dipped 43% to $299 million in Q1, with crypto trading revenue specifically falling 39% to $54 million (meaning crypto trading accounted for about 18% of Robinhood’s total revenue before the end of March).

Robinhood has been actively growing its crypto arm since the end of Q1 in a bid to attract users and boost trading volume. In the last month or so, the exchange has rolled out custodial crypto wallets to its users, listed four new coins including Solana and Shiba Inu, and announced it would integrate with the Bitcoin Lightning Network to enable faster, lower-fee transactions.

22 million customers interact with its crypto products today, Robinhood CTO Johann Kerbrat told TechCrunch in an interview. With a custodial wallet, Robinhood holds the private key on behalf of a user, meaning that users can invest in crypto by tracking its price movements but they cannot directly transact with their crypto funds.

Now that it’s launching a non-custodial wallet, users will be able to access and manage their own digital assets, including cryptocurrencies and decentralized apps (dApps) including NFTs, Kerbrat said. Kerbrat sees two key areas of differentiation for Robinhood’s non-custodial wallet, which he said will support multiple blockchains — its user-friendly design and no-fee setup for customers.

The rollout will start at the end of the summer, he added. The company’s goal is to have the wallet available to all users across the globe by the end of 2022.

Coinbase, another popular crypto exchange, also offers two types of wallets — custodial and non-custodial — in two different apps, the latter being Coinbase Wallet. Coinbase Wallet is free to use but does pass on individual transaction fees to its users.

Robinhood, in contrast, won’t charge its customers any fees for using its non-custodial wallet, including network fees for trading and swapping crypto, Kerbrat said.

The Robinhood non-custodial wallet, which Kerbrat said still hasn’t been officially named, will operate as a standalone app. In addition to allowing users to store NFTs in the wallet, it will also serve as a point of connectivity to the decentralized finance (DeFi) ecosystem, giving customers access to DeFi protocols through which they can earn a yield on their coins by lending or staking them, Kerbrat said.

To set up an account, users won’t need to share any personal information with the exchange unless they choose to connect their non-custodial wallet with their Robinhood app, he added.

“We want to make sure that there’s still a good tie between the two products. If you want an on-ramp or off-ramp from fiat to crypto, you can use Robinhood, but you’re not forced to do it,” Kerbrat said.

Kerbrat hopes the announcement today will encourage dApp developers and protocols to integrate with Robinhood’s wallet.

“We still think that the main reason why many people are not using non-custodial wallets is that it’s too complicated on top of the fees everywhere. And so we don’t want to just do a project — we actually want to really help understand what’s going on and integrate to dApps.

Robinhood’s shares soared over 20% last week after FTX, a crypto exchange run by billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, disclosed that it had bought a 7.6% stake in the company. The stock was trading around $10 per share as of noon EST on Tuesday, still markedly below its 52-week high of $85.

Google Cloud launches new software supply chain and zero trust security services

Google Cloud is holding its annual Security Summit this week and unsurprisingly, the company used the event to launch a few new security features. This year, the announcements focus on software supply chain security, Zero Trust and tools for making it easier for enterprises to adopt Google Cloud’s security capabilities.

It’s no surprise that software supply chain security makes an appearance at this year’s event. Thanks to recent high-profile attacks, it’s been the focus of White House summits and, just last week, an industry group that includes Google, Amazon, Ericsson, Intel, Microsoft and VMware pledged $30 million to work with the Linux Foundation and Open Source Security Foundation to improve the security of open-source software.

At today’s Summit, Google Cloud announced the launch of its Assured Open Source Software service, which gives enterprises and government users access to the same vetted open-source packages that Google itself uses in its projects. According to the company, these packages are regularly scanned, analyzed and fuzz-tested for vulnerabilities and built with Google Cloud’s Cloud Build service with evidence of SLSA-compliance (that’s ‘Supply-chain Levels for Software Artifacts,’ a framework for safeguarding artifact integrity across software supply chains). These packages are also signed by Google and distributed from Google’s secured registry. “Assured OSS helps organizations reduce the need to develop, maintain, and operate a complex process for securely managing their open source dependencies,” Google explains in its announcement today.

Also new today is BeyondCorp Enterprise Essentials, a new edition of Google Cloud’s BeyondCorp Enterpirse Zero Trust solution that promises to “help organizations quickly and easily take the first steps toward Zero Trust implementation.” The company says it includes features like context-aware access controls for SaaS applications and other SAML-connected services, as well as threat and data protection capabilities, in addition to data loss prevention, malware and phishing protection in Chrome.

Finally, Google is also launched a new Security Foundation solution for enterprises that aims to make it easier for them to adopt Google Cloud’s security capabilities. It joins Google’s other ready-made solutions, which so far have focused on specific industries (retail, media and entertainment, financial services, etc.) as opposed to this more general security-centric package. “This solution is aligned to the prescriptive guidance from our Google Cloud Cybersecurity Action Team, and codified in our Security Foundations Blueprint, so that you get the controls you need for data protection, network security, security monitoring, and more to help make your deployments secure from day one–and to do it more cost-effectively,” Google explains.

PSA: Apple’s new rules let apps raise subscription prices automatically

Surely, this won’t be abused? Alongside the launch of the iOS 15.5 update, Apple introduced a new set of rules to govern auto-renewing subscriptions on the App Store. Now, instead of asking users to agree to any subscription price increases, developers will be able to roll out a price increase with the user’s explicit consent. The feature feels somewhat anti-consumer, as it allows developers to simply inform customers they’ll be charged more, not require the customer to opt-in to the higher pricing.

TechCrunch first broke the news that Apple was pilot testing this program last month, when it appeared Disney+ subscription customers had simply been told their price was increasing but weren’t asked for their consent. Apple then confirmed this was the result of a “new commerce feature” it planned to launch soon, which it said would be “great for both developers and users.”

It’s certainly great for developers! For users, maybe not so much.

Apple’s position on the matter is that it could save consumers the hassle of having their subscriptions automatically canceled just because they didn’t see the notification or email that asked them to opt in to the price increase.

“This has led to some services being unintentionally interrupted for users and they must take steps to resubscribe within the app, from Settings on iPhone and iPad, or in the App Store on Mac,” the company explained in its announcement on Monday.

However, the flip side of this argument is that those same customers who would have missed the consent notification will likely be the same ones who would now miss the notification informing them their subscription will be increasing in price.

These may include customers who don’t keep a close eye on their inboxes and tend to miss Apple’s emails; those who keep their iOS notifications silenced or aggregated into summaries using Apple’s own notification management tools; as well as those who so infrequently use a particular subscription-based app that they would likely rather have their subscription lapse than be automatically opted in to paying more.

There’s also an argument here that this change could enable unscrupulous developers and scammers to better profit from their victims. Although Apple reviews apps for adherence to its App Store policies as part of its vetting process, it has for years struggled to reign in subscription scams. There are still a number of apps operating on the App Store that are leveraging fake reviews to give their app the appearance of being well-received in order to scam users out of their money.

In an antitrust hearing last year, Congress even questioned Apple why it was not able to locate the fraudulent apps and scams, given they were “trivially easy to identify.” Instead, the wider public was only learning of the scams through “open-source reporting and journalists,” noted Georgia’s Senator Jon Ossoff at the time. Apple demurred, and insisted that it had invested millions in hardening its App Store’s security.

But today, subscription scams continue to persist. And, unfortunately, this new policy change could increase the damage done by those bad actors.

Apple, at least, built in a few protections to the new program so the feature can’t be egregiously abused. It says developers can’t increase prices more than once per year. The increase also can’t exceed 50% of the subscription price, and the difference in price can’t exceed $5 USD per period for non-annual subscriptions or $50 USD for annual subscriptions. It also must be permitted by local laws.

The company also says users will be warned of the price increase in advance via email, push notification, and a message within the app. And Apple will notify users of how to view, manage, and cancel subscriptions if they don’t want to pay more. It’s unclear how Apple will police this program to ensure scammers aren’t increasing prices more frequently than permitted or at higher rates that would otherwise require consent. Hopefully, Apple will keep a strict eye on the apps adopting this option.

Apple may have chosen to enact the policy to better cater to the larger app developers who are pushing for new regulations that would allow them to collect subscription payments without having to use Apple’s own in-app purchasing system, which requires a rev share with the tech giant. These companies want to control their own customer relationships and manage their own payments — control that could include doling out the occasional price increase without having to regain the consent of their entire subscription base each time.

While some developers may welcome Apple’s latest change to save themselves the trouble of having to gather consent for smaller price changes, others are likely worried about the potential for abuse — particularly because that abuse could have long-term negative impacts on consumers’ willingness to subscribe to apps in the first place.

Storyblok raises $47M to build out its headless CMS aimed at non-technical users like marketers

The world of web development continues to become increasingly more democratized — and more creative — thanks to innovations in “headless” systems that give more flexibility around how a site can look and function: a middle ground between using rigid templates and building and maintaining every single component of a web’s tech stack from the ground up. Today, one of the startups building headless tools specifically for content management is announcing a big round of funding on the back of some important customer wins.

Storyblok — a startup founded in Linz, Austria, that has built a headless CMS designed both for technical and non-technical users like marketers to manage content that appears across websites, apps and other digital interfaces for education, commerce, gaming and other kinds of publishers — has raised $47 million, funding that it will use to continue expanding its CMS platform with more functionality. The company’s tools are already used by some others 74,000 companies, including Netflix, Adidas, T-Mobile, Happy Socks and Deliveroo, which collectively have built some 120,000 projects on top of it.

The Series B is being led by Mubadala Capital and HV Capital, with 3VC and firstminute capital also participating. The funding follows a Series A of $8.5 million in February 2021 also led by Mubadala. Storyblok has raised $58 million to date, and it’s not disclosing its valuation.

There are a number of headless CMS providers in the world today — companies like Contentful, Prismic, Contentstack, Strapi and many more — that compete against Storyblok, but CEO and co-founder Dominik Angerer believes his company represents a new wave of innovation in web development.

Years ago, companies like WordPress, Squarespace and Wix broke new ground in how users could select from a dynamic range of templates when building websites. More recently, a newer set of startups tapped into innovations around APIs to plug in complex technical processes created a new approach to building sites (“headless” the term was coined by the founder of Commercetools, which as its name implies applied the idea initially to the building of e-commerce sites). But these still represented a pain point for the wider organization: headless in this sense may have done away with needing to build the very technical and complex backend of managing payments and databases, but not the technicalities of building or populating the front end of sites.

This is where Storyblok comes into the story: “Headless” systems represent a new generation of web development: a headless CMS that can also be used by non-technical people like marketers. Angerer and his co-founder Alexander Feiglstorfer came up with the idea in 2017 when they saw that the systems in use at the time still required developers to build and maintain content, so their solution was to build out modules to manage the site, blocks that would initially be programmed by developers (either at the company’s in question or by a network of 1,000 third parties in a marketplace that Storyblok operates), but that could then be updated, and manipulated otherwise by marketers.

The end result has seen a lot of traction in part because of how it addresses that significant gap that exists in a lot of organizations: those who need to touch the content of sites most frequently are typically not the technical teams but those managing content. And as digital content proliferates into a wider array of formats and screens — games and apps, smartphones and watches, that demands even more input from the less technical teams, and more strain put on developer teams.

“We’ve been big believers in Storyblok from day one, and the speed at which the company has managed to scale since our Series A investment has been remarkable. Storyblok’s strong organic traction is a real testament to the quality of the product Dominik and Alex have built, and we are excited to continue our partnership with the Storyblok team,” said Fatou Bintou Sagnang, Partner at Mubadala Capital Ventures, in a statement.

The company does not see its mission as part of the wave of low-code and no-code tools: developers still need to be involved to build the initial blocks that marketers can then update.

Angerer sees developing the headless structure and focusing on those blocks as part of “its core functionality,” he said. “So switching over to building no-code tools would feel like a betrayal to that mission.”

However, third parties have plugged into the Storyblok system to create those tools for others to use if they want.

Earlybird VC closes new €350M fund for Western European startups, with a deeptech angle

Earlybird VC was one of the, if not the “OG” of the emergence of Berlin as a key global tech startup ecosystem 15 years ago. Founded in 1997, it’s gone on to back N26 and UiPath, among many others. And in the past four months, two more Earlybird portfolio companies have become Unicorns: Aiven, a Finnish software company that combines open source with cloud infrastructure and OneFootball, a German sports and soccer media platform.

It’s now closed its seventh early-stage fund at a hard cap of €350 million, making it one of the largest European early stage funds, and the firm says it was oversubscribed. A couple of years ago Earlybird split into Earlybird West and East, with the latter taking on regions like Central Europe and Turkey. This new fund is anchored in the Digital West (as in Western Europe) investment team.

The Earlybird Digital West fund VII will look at Enterprise Software, Fintech and Sustainability, with a particular focus on deep tech. Earlybird Digital West has made over 17 investments out of this new fund and they include both existing and new portfolio companies such as Aleph Alpha, Deed, Finmid, Hive Technologies, HiveMQ, Marvel Fusion, MAYD, Remberg, Sikoia and ThingsTHINKING.

Hendrik Brandis, Partner and Co-Founder at Earlybird said in a statement: “Our portfolio companies Isar Aerospace, Aleph Alpha, Marvel Fusion or SimScale show that deep tech startups are on the rise and stem from continuous work of scientific institutions across Europe. Our role is to offer these highly scientific young companies, besides our other focus sectors such as Fintech, Enterprise Software and Sustainability, commercialization and growth opportunities on a global scale, in order to make ground-breaking ideas available to society.” 


Christian Nagel, Partner & Co-Founder at Earlybird added: “We are grateful for the high-level of commitment and trust coming from our long-term investors, many of whom accompanied us along almost all our fund generations.”

Earlybird has had some other recent wins: the recent $900 million funding round for N26 – making its the second most valuable retail bank in Germany; and the rise of Isar Aerospaceone of the best-funded space tech company in Europe.

Apple Podcasts gains storage clean-up tools, support for annual subscriptions, and a new distribution system

As the battle for podcaster talent and distribution heats up among providers, Apple this morning announced the launch of several new features for its Apple Podcasts service arriving alongside the latest software updates for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Key among these are features for managing podcast storage across devices, tools to enable annual podcast subscriptions, and the newly announced Apple Podcasts Delegated Delivery system — a feature that will soon allow creators to more easily distribute their podcasts directly to Apple Podcasts from third-party hosting providers.

Apple says this latter addition will save creators time and energy as they’ll be able to authorize their hosting provider to deliver both their free and premium podcast episodes to Apple Podcasts using the provider’s own dashboard. But it also gives Apple a means of competing with services like Spotify’s Anchor, which now provides tools for creation, hosting, and distribution across all major listening apps.

Starting this fall, a select number of hosting providers will support the Delegated Delivery system, including Acast, ART19, Blubrry, Buzzsprout, Libsyn, Omny Studio, and RSS.com. Apple says these providers represent around 80% of listening for premium content on Apple Podcasts, and more services will be added over time.

The feature will be available at no additional cost to all creators through Apple Podcasts Connect and creators won’t need a membership to the Apple Podcasts Program to publish their free shows — only to publish premium content.

Apple notes additional details about the new system, including educational resources for creators, will be introduced closer to the service’s launch. In the meantime, creators can visit the Hosting Providers page on Apple.com to stay tuned for further updates.

While the new distribution technology is top among today’s announcements, another new tool will be welcomed by longtime Apple Podcasts’ users — particularly those impacted by the app’s more recent bugs.

Because Apple Podcasts is able to download shows to listeners’ devices, the app can end up consuming a lot of device storage. On iPhones in particular, this can lead to users running out of room for other essential activities — like taking photos or installing new apps and games. This issue was then further complicated by the buggy iOS 14.5 and macOS 11.3 releases, which caused unwanted, older episodes of shows to be downloaded, eating up even more storage.

Image Credits: Apple

With the launch of iOS 15.5, iPadOS 15.5, and macOS 12.4, Apple is launching new tools to solve the problem of more easily removing a show’s accumulated downloads, potentially freeing up gigs of storage on users’ devices’ as a result.

From the Settings app on iPhone and iPad, users will be able to navigate to Podcasts, then tap on “Automatically Downloaded” to choose how many episodes of shows are downloaded and saved to the device. The menu will allow listeners to choose to download a certain number of recent episodes, like the latest 3, 5 or 10; or users can choose to download all episodes published recently, like in the last 7, 14, or 30 days. Or they can select “All New Episodes” or none by choosing the “Off” option. The latter makes Apple Podcasts function as a streaming-only app, which works for most people who live in areas with reliable cellular connectivity or access to Wi-Fi.

By default, brand-new Apple Podcasts users will have the last 5 episodes kept for all episodic shows and all episodes kept for serial shows, the company says. Otherwise, the default will be to keep all new episodes if nothing else is configured.

What’s more is when a user selects their preference, the app will then prompt them to remove the automatically downloaded episodes on the device that now no longer meet the newly selected criteria. That means this feature actually works as a bulk clean-up tool for removing a large number of downloads from the device storage. Before, this was a tedious, manual process that could be tackled in different ways. Users could mark shows as played while having the “Remove Played Downloads” setting turned on, or they could manually remove the downloads for a show or individual episodes one by one.

These new preferences can also be customized at the show level, not just system-wide, for a more personalized experience.

This new functionality will also be integrated into the iPhone’s recommendations related to cleaning up device storage. From iPhone Storage (under Settings –> General), users will be prompted to keep only the last 5 episodes and delete older shows if podcast episodes take up more than 15% of their device storage.

The selected settings carry over to Mac, as well, which gives desktop users the ability to make decisions related to their Mac storage. That means this is the first time listeners can automatically delete old episodes across their devices.

Image Credits: Apple

Finally, Apple says it’s introducing the option for podcast creators to present annual subscription plans for their premium podcasts alongside their monthly options. These appear when a user taps “Subscribe” or “Try Free” on a show or channel with a subscription. Of note, the annual subscription will now be selected as the default. And, when the annual cost is lower than if the listener paid monthly, the annual plan’s savings will be displayed to the user.

Creators are able to set up their annual subscriptions at price points they choose as they do their monthly subscriptions in Apple Podcasts Connect.

The subscriptions and new storage features are rolling out with iOS 15.5, iPadOS 15.5, and macOS 12.4. Delegated Delivery will arrive on supported podcast hosting providers later this fall. 

Other updates to the app in iOS 15.4 include the ability to browse shows by season and filter episodes by status, which will make it easier to find the one users want to play.

The changes follow a Podcasts app update that introduced a new design but also a number of usability issues that drove users to third-party podcast apps, including to Apple Podcasts competitor Spotify, which has been heavily investing in the podcast ecosystem. Those departures could limit Apple’s ability to market podcast subscriptions to users, where Apple takes 15%-30% of subscription revenue, similar to the App Store.

Ahead of this update, Apple last month introduced three new Apple Podcasts Collections — Darkside, tbh, and Popped — which focus on true crime, culture, and entertainment and are available in the U.S. and Canada. It also recently added support for uploaded MP3 files for subscriber audio in addition to WAV and FLAC, tools for getting help with launching subscriptions with Jump-Start, and new analytics around listening and followers in Apple Podcasts Connect.