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Twitter is down [UPDATE: It’s back]

Reports of Twitter being down are coming in from across the global. The homepage and mobile app is currently down. The desktop API still works so users can connect to the service through apps like Tweetdeck and Tweetbot.

According to downdetector.com, users are experience an outage across the world. The issue appeared at 9:50 AM EDT.

Twitter has yet to comment on the outage.

Update: As of 10:35 the service appears to be coming back online around the world.

Developing…

News Source = techcrunch.com

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affiliate links

Airbnb eyes expansion with affiliate program for sites with 1M+ users, new API

While Expedia and Priceline roll out ways to encroach on Airbnb’s space with their own private home listings for travellers, the $31 billion venture-backed Airbnb is also looking at new ways to boost its own traffic and bookings. Airbnb is now rolling out a new call for affiliate partners, where high-traffic sites with over 1 million visitors can embed Airbnb property listings and make commissions when they are booked. Alongside this, Airbnb has now turned on an API for app developers to link in the backend to and offer an easier way to manage listings via other apps.

The two steps underscore how the company is looking for ways to open its platform for the next stage of growth, and come amid a spate of other partnership expansions.

A couple of weeks ago, co-working space WeWork announced it would team up with Airbnb to offer a co-working and accommodation double service to business travellers. And in Florida, Airbnb has been collaborating with a developer to build an Airbnb-branded apartment complex — one way that the company might get around some of the trickier rules regarding Airbnb rentals in private buildings, which are potentially hindering the company’s growth.

Neither the API or the affiliate program have been officially announced, but both were spotted by Matteo Gamba, a product designer who blogs about Airbnb on the side.

Airbnb had an affiliate scheme in place in the past, but it was terminated December 2015. Since then, the company has been partnering with a very limited number of companies on a case-by-case basis (such as a deal to embed listings with two popular travel sites in Japan), which appears to be the basis of the new affiliate program.

“Airbnb has always maintained affiliate relationships with partners around the world,” a spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch in a statement. “In 2015 we ended some inactive partners, but have maintained others. The new landing page serves as simple, single place for potential partners to find the information they need to become an Airbnb affiliate and is available in all countries that Airbnb operates.”

The API — which is available by application only — is also an interesting twist. Up to now, the company has not offered a widely-usable API for third parties to integrate its listings. What you can see if you look around is that developers and others have come up with alternative ways, such as using a man in the middle proxy or scraping the site, to get API-like information. (Using a technique like scraping is a violation of Airbnb’s Terms of Service.)

The API is aimed not at bringing listings posted on Airbnb out of its walled garden to other sites (as the affiliate deals will enable), but about letting developers, specifically of apps that let hosts manage their properties, link up with Airbnb in the backend so that they can manage properties on the site more easily.

“The API allows development teams to securely Oauth into new and existing Airbnb accounts,” Airbnb notes. “Your application users will have the ability to push updates to content, rates, and availability. As Airbnb guests book your listings, we’ll pass back messaging and reservation details, allowing applications to build custom workflows and create amazing experiences for our shared guests.”

Refocusing on building out a network of affiliate partners, and the launch of the API, both show how Airbnb is looking to work much closer with the established travel industry. Affiliate marketing, for example, is one of the biggest ways that sites in the travel sector generate revenue — by aggregating inventory and listings from a host of other sites and then getting a small cut of any sale that is generated through those referrals. It’s also one of the most common ways that people eventually end up booking things.

The affiliate site does not currently list any specific partners, nor does the it give details on the business model behind it, but the idea here appears to be to present Airbnb listings on non-Airbnb sites where where people are already going to purchase travel and related services.

“Earn commissions and provide more choices to your users,” Airbnb writes, with one affiliate option aimed at attracting guests, and other aimed at attracting hosts (in other words, those who would list properties or other services on Airbnb) — the two parts of Airbnb’s two-sided marketplace.

To give you an idea of what kind of site Airbnb might consider as an affiliate partner, according to a source, Airbnb has discussed an affiliate partnership with Groupon.

(This would make a lot of sense: Groupon itself has been working on expanding its travel and local experiences business as part of its effort to diversify beyond daily deals from local retailers. Recent moves involve a partnership with Viator to boost its inventory of local activities, and acquiring LivingSocial, which had also reoriented itself to focus on that sector after its own daily deals business took a nosedive.)

To me, taken together and considering the latest partnerships, these moves mark Airbnb’s latest phase of growth. The earliest concept of the site was around people offering spare beds and rooms in their homes as an alternative to staying in more pricey, impersonal or too touristy hotels. Then it progressed to people offering their whole (regular, not vacation) homes when they were not in them.

That quickly moved to vacation properties and places that were not normally occupied by the owner, and then agents appeared to were managing several of properties at once. While Airbnb still very much has a lot of properties and hosts who fall into the first three groups, it needs to turbo charge its growth to really fill out its $31 billion valuation, which in theory puts it between Hilton and Marriott in terms of market cap. And this is one of the ways it hopes to get there: by making it much easier to list and manage properties, bring more eyeballs to its inventory, and quickly convert interested browsers into bookings.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Acquia

Acquia Javascript support lets developers build web apps that combine content, data

Acquia, the commercial arm of the open-source Drupal web content management tool, has long offered a cloud-based user interface designed to make it easier for customers to build web sites. Today, the company announced a new way of interacting with Drupal where it will be exposing the different parts of the platform as a set of services, while supporting node.js for scripting.

This will enable developers to build web applications in Javascript that combine content and data in a single interface without explicitly accessing Drupal to do it. This offers several distinct benefits. First of all, it means web programmers don’t have to generate parallel development tracks, one for data and one for content. Secondly, it allows developers to take advantage of shared resources across the content and data pieces such as a shared database, and finally it gives them access to the various parts of Drupal such as search, security and content management as a set of APIs.

This decoupling of the content services from the content management system front-end has long been a vision of the industry and of Dries Buytaert, the company CTO and co-founder. Companies like Box have already started doing this, as have some startups like Contentful, which is built from the ground up as an API-driven content management tool.

This marks the first time that Acquia customers can access these content service APIs in this fashion, while building data-driven applications along the way, says Chris Stone, Chief Product Officer at Acquia. Stone says this approach is designed to make it much easier for developers to build applications that operate across channels, whether that’s a voice assistant like the Amazon Echo or the latest iPhone.

“Strategically, it’s good idea for us. It brings in a marriage of data and content. We are content guys and we can now start to create journeys out of data captured from ecommerce transactions,” Stone told TechCrunch. This could be the classic’ what to do next’ or kicking off a workflow to respond to an abandoned shopping cart, as a couple of examples.

Buytaert has always seen this level of personalization as the ultimate goal of the web content management system, and along the way, the company has created tools to personalize the web content management experience. Today, the website is just one way customers interact with a company, and Acquia is hoping this new approach will enable developers to create a data-driven application experience across multiple access channels, while still taking advantage of Drupal services when needed.

Acquia has raised over $173 millions since it was founded in 2007. It’s headquarters are in downtown Boston.

Featured Image: Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Affectiva

New Affectiva cloud API helps machines understand emotions in human speech

Affectiva, the startup that spun out of the MIT Media Lab several years ago with tools designed to understand facial emotions, announced a new cloud API today that can detect a range of emotion in human speech.

When we speak, our voices offer subtle and not so subtle cues about our emotions. Whether our voices are tight or loud or soft can give valuable clues about our feelings. Humans can sometimes (although not always) detect those emotions, but traditionally computers have not been very good at it.

Alexa isn’t terribly funny because the technology doesn’t understand humor or tone, and can’t understand when you’re joking versus asking a genuine question. Using Affectiva’s new tech, voice assistants, bots and other devices that operate using artificial intelligence might soon be able to hear and understand our emotions — and be able to derive more meaning from our requests, company CEO and co-founder Dr. Rana el Kaliouby told TechCrunch.

“Amazon [and other companies] knows if it wants it to be persuasive to try a product or route, it needs to have a relationship [with you]. To have a relationship, it needs to understand your emotional state, which is what humans do, have a real-time understanding of an emotional state. Are you annoyed, frustrated, confused?,” Kaliouby explained.

Amazon isn’t alone. Car makers are interested in knowing your emotional state behind the wheel, and that of your passengers. These factors could have an impact on your safety in the car. Any company could use a better understanding of customers calling into their call centers or dealing with a customer service bot (they would find me often annoyed).

About a year ago, the company decided to begin studying how a machine might be able to detect an emotion based on the quality of the spoken voice. This is no easy task. There are different languages and a variety of cultural cues, which aren’t necessarily standard from country to country and culture to culture.

The company has been collecting data in the public domain and from its own data sets related to the emotional facial recognition research from around the world. They have teams of people listening to each test subject and identifying the emotion. To avoid bias, each labeler goes through a training program, and for each item in the test set, at least three of five testers have to agree on the emotional state, she said.

Affectiva understands that the data they have gathered to this point is only the beginning. Today’s announcement around the API is also about getting partners to help push this work further along. “We are starting with a crowd-based API because we are looking for data partners interested in partnering around data and emotion classifiers,” she said.

All of this research is great in theory, but there are also many ethical questions related to machines detecting our emotions in our faces and our speech, and Kaliouby understands this. They have strict guidelines about gathering information and how they use it.

They are also running a one-day Emotion AI Summit today in Cambridge at the MIT Media Lab where a variety of speakers will discuss the implications for this kind of technology on society.

Featured Image: Flashpop/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

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