May
07
2020
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Health APIs usher in the patient revolution we have been waiting for

If you’ve ever been stuck using a health provider’s clunky online patient portal or had to make multiple calls to transfer medical records, you know how difficult it is to access your health data.

In an era when control over personal data is more important than ever before, the healthcare industry has notably lagged behind — but that’s about to change. This past month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published two final rules around patient data access and interoperability that will require providers and payers to create APIs that can be used by third-party applications to let patients access their health data.

This means you will soon have consumer apps that will plug into your clinic’s health records and make them viewable to you on your smartphone.

Critics of the new rulings have voiced privacy concerns over patient health data leaving internal electronic health record (EHR) systems and being surfaced to the front lines of smartphone apps. Vendors such as Epic and many health providers have publicly opposed the HHS rulings, while others, such as Cerner, have been supportive.

While that debate has been heated, the new HHS rulings represent a final decision that follows initial rules proposed a year ago. It’s a multi-year win for advocates of greater data access and control by patients.

The scope of what this could lead to — more control over your health records, and apps on top of it — is immense. Apple has been making progress with its Health Records app for some time now, and other technology companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, have undertaken healthcare initiatives with both new apps and cloud services.

It’s not just big tech that is getting in on the action: startups are emerging as well, such as Commure and Particle Health, which help developers work with patient health data. The unlocking of patient health data could be as influential as the unlocking of banking data by Plaid, which powered the growth of multiple fintech startups, including Robinhood, Venmo and Betterment.

What’s clear is that the HHS rulings are here to stay. In fact, many of the provisions require providers and payers to provide partial data access within the next 6-12 months. With this new market opening up, though, it’s time for more health entrepreneurs to take a deeper look at what patient data may offer in terms of clinical and consumer innovation.

The incredible complexity of today’s patient data systems

Jan
13
2020
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Salesforce announces new tools to boost developer experience on Commerce Cloud

Salesforce announced some new developer tools today, designed to make it easier for programmers to build applications on top of Commerce Cloud in what is known in industry parlance as a “headless” system.

What that means is that developers can separate the content from the design and management of the site, allowing companies to change either component independently.

To help with this goal, Salesforce announced some new and enhanced APIs that enable developers to take advantage of features built into the Commerce Cloud platform without having to build them from scratch. For instance, they could take advantage of Einstein, Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform, to add elements like next-best actions to the site, the kind of intelligent functionality that would typically be out of reach of most developers.

Developers also often need to connect to other enterprise systems from their e-commerce site to share data with these tools. To fill that need, Salesforce is taking advantage of MuleSoft, the company it purchased almost two years ago for $6.5 billion. Using MuleSoft’s integration technology, Salesforce can help connect to other systems like ERP financial systems or product management tools and exchange information between the two systems.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, whose experience with Salesforce goes back to its earliest days, says this about helping give developers the tools they need to create the same kind of integrated shopping experiences consumers have grown to expect from Amazon.

“These tools give developers real-time insights delivered at the ‘moment of truth’ to optimize conversion opportunities, and automate processes to improve ordering and fulfillment efficiencies. This should give developers in the Salesforce ecosystem what they need to deliver Amazon-like experiences while having to compete with them,” he said.

To help get customers comfortable with these tools, the company also announced a new Commerce Cloud Development Center to access a community of developers who can discuss and share solutions with one another, an SDK with code samples and Trailhead education resources.

Salesforce made these announcement as part of the National Retail Foundation (NRF) Conference taking place in New York City this week.

Nov
18
2019
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18 months after acquisition, MuleSoft is integrating more deeply into Salesforce

A year and a half after getting acquired by Salesforce for $6.5 billion, MuleSoft is beginning to resemble a Salesforce company — using its language and its methodologies to describe new products and services. This week at Dreamforce, as the company’s mega customer conference begins in San Francisco, MuleSoft announced a slew of new services as it integrates more deeply into the Salesforce family of products.

MuleSoft creates APIs to connect different systems together. This could be quite useful for Salesforce as a bridge between older software that may be on-prem or in the cloud. It allows Salesforce and its customers to access data wherever it lives, even from different parts of the Salesforce ecosystem itself.

MuleSoft made a number of announcements designed to simplify that process and put it in the hands of more customers. For starters, it’s announcing Accelerators, which are pre-defined integrations that let companies connect more easily to other systems. Not surprisingly, two of the first ones connect data from external products and services to Salesforce Service Cloud and Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

“What we’ve done is we’ve pre-built integrations to common back-end systems like ServiceNow and JIRA in Service Cloud, and we prebuilt those integrations, and then automatically connected that data and services through a Salesforce Lightning component directly in the Service console,” Lindsey Irvine, chief marketing officer at MuleSoft, explained.

What this does is allow the agent to get a more complete view of the customer by getting not just the data that’s stored in Salesforce, but in other systems as well.

The company also wants to put these kinds of integration skills in the hands of more Salesforce customers, so they have designed a set of courses in Trailhead, the company’s training platform, with the goal of helping 100,000 Salesforce admins, developers, integration architects and line of business users develop expertise around creating and managing these kinds of integrations.

The company is also putting resources into creating the API Community Manager, a place where people involved in building and managing these integrations can get help from a community of users, all built on Salesforce products and services, says Mark Dao, chief product officer at MuleSoft.

“We’re leveraging Community Cloud, Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud to create a true developer experience platform. And what’s interesting is that it’s targeting both the business users — in other words, business development teams and marketing teams — as well as external developers,” he said. He added that the fact this is working with business users as well as the integration experts is something new, and the goal is to drive increased usage of APIs using MuleSoft inside Salesforce customer organizations.

Finally, the company announced Flow Designer, a new tool fueled by Einstein AI, which helps automate the creation of workflows and integrations between systems in a more automated fashion without requiring coding skills.

MuleSoft Flow Designer requires no coding (Screenshot: MuleSoft)

Dao says this is about putting MuleSoft in reach of more users. “It’s about enabling use cases for less technical users in the context of the MuleSoft Anypoint Platform. This really requires a new way of thinking around creating integrations, and we’ve been making Flow Designer simpler and simpler, and removing that technical layer from those users,” he said.

API Community Manager is available now. Accelerators will be available in January and Flow Designer updates will be available Q2 2020, according to the company.

These and other features are all designed to take some of the complexity out of using MuleSoft to help connect various systems across the organization, including both Salesforce and external programs, to make use of data wherever it lives. MuleSoft does requires a fair bit of technical skill, so if the company is able to simplify integration tasks, it could help put it in the hands of more users.

Sep
26
2019
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Battlefield vets StrongSalt (formerly OverNest) announces $3M seed round

StrongSalt, then known as OverNest, appeared at the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC Battlefield in 2016, and announced a product for searching encrypted code, which remains unusual to this day. Today, the company announced a $3 million seed round led by Valley Capital Partners.

StrongSalt founder and CEO Ed Yu says encryption remains a difficult proposition, and that when you look at the majority of breaches, encryption wasn’t used. He said that his company wants to simplify adding encryption to applications, and came up with a new service to let developers add encryption in the form of an API. “We decided to come up with what we call an API platform. It’s like infrastructure that allows you to integrate our solution into any existing or any new applications,” he said.

The company’s original idea was to create a product to search encrypted code, but Yu says the tech has much more utility as an API that’s applicable across applications, and that’s why they decided to package it as a service. It’s not unlike Twilio for communications or Stripe for payments, except in this case you can build in searchable encryption.

The searchable part is actually a pretty big deal because, as Yu points out, when you encrypt data it is no longer searchable. “If you encrypt all your data, you cannot search within it, and if you cannot search within it, you cannot find the data you’re looking for, and obviously you can’t really use the data. So we actually solved that problem,” he said.

Developers can add searchable encryption as part of their applications. For customers already using a commercial product, the company’s API actually integrates with popular services, enabling customers to encrypt the data stored there, while keeping it searchable.

“We will offer a storage API on top of Box, AWS S3, Google Cloud, Azure — depending on what the customer has or wants. If the customer already has AWS S3 storage, for example, then when they use our API, and after encrypting the data, it will be stored in their AWS repository,” Yu explained.

For those companies that don’t have a storage service, the company is offering one. What’s more, they are using the blockchain to provide a mechanism for sharing, auditing and managing encrypted data. “We also use the blockchain for sharing data by recording the authorization by the sender, so the receiver can retrieve the information needed to reconstruct the keys in order to retrieve the data. This simplifies key management in the case of sharing and ensures auditability and revocability of the sharing by the sender,” Yu said.

If you’re wondering how the company has been surviving since 2016, while only getting its seed round today, it had a couple of small seed rounds prior to this, and a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense, which replaced the need for substantial earlier funding.

“The DOD was looking for a solution to have secure communication between computers, and they needed to have a way to securely store data, and so we were providing a solution for them,” he said. In fact, this work was what led them to build the commercial API platform they are offering today.

The company, which was founded in 2015, currently has 12 employees spread across the globe.

Sep
06
2019
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APIs are the next big SaaS wave

While the software revolution started out slowly, over the past few years it’s exploded and the fastest-growing segment to-date has been the shift towards software as a service or SaaS.

SaaS has dramatically lowered the intrinsic total cost of ownership for adopting software, solved scaling challenges and taken away the burden of issues with local hardware. In short, it has allowed a business to focus primarily on just that — its business — while simultaneously reducing the burden of IT operations.

Today, SaaS adoption is increasingly ubiquitous. According to IDG’s 2018 Cloud Computing Survey, 73% of organizations have at least one application or a portion of their computing infrastructure already in the cloud. While this software explosion has created a whole range of downstream impacts, it has also caused software developers to become more and more valuable.

The increasing value of developers has meant that, like traditional SaaS buyers before them, they also better intuit the value of their time and increasingly prefer businesses that can help alleviate the hassles of procurement, integration, management, and operations. Developer needs to address those hassles are specialized.

They are looking to deeply integrate products into their own applications and to do so, they need access to an Application Programming Interface, or API. Best practices for API onboarding include technical documentation, examples, and sandbox environments to test.

APIs tend to also offer metered billing upfront. For these and other reasons, APIs are a distinct subset of SaaS.

For fast-moving developers building on a global-scale, APIs are no longer a stop-gap to the future—they’re a critical part of their strategy. Why would you dedicate precious resources to recreating something in-house that’s done better elsewhere when you can instead focus your efforts on creating a differentiated product?

Thanks to this mindset shift, APIs are on track to create another SaaS-sized impact across all industries and at a much faster pace. By exposing often complex services as simplified code, API-first products are far more extensible, easier for customers to integrate into, and have the ability to foster a greater community around potential use cases.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 10.40.51 AM

Graphics courtesy of Accel

Billion-dollar businesses building APIs

Whether you realize it or not, chances are that your favorite consumer and enterprise apps—Uber, Airbnb, PayPal, and countless more—have a number of third-party APIs and developer services running in the background. Just like most modern enterprises have invested in SaaS technologies for all the above reasons, many of today’s multi-billion dollar companies have built their businesses on the backs of these scalable developer services that let them abstract everything from SMS and email to payments, location-based data, search and more.

Simultaneously, the entrepreneurs behind these API-first companies like Twilio, Segment, Scale and many others are building sustainable, independent—and big—businesses.

Valued today at over $22 billion, Stripe is the biggest independent API-first company. Stripe took off because of its initial laser-focus on the developer experience setting up and taking payments. It was even initially known as /dev/payments!

Stripe spent extra time building the right, idiomatic SDKs for each language platform and beautiful documentation. But it wasn’t just those things, they rebuilt an entire business process around being API-first.

Companies using Stripe didn’t need to fill out a PDF and set up a separate merchant account before getting started. Once sign-up was complete, users could immediately test the API with a sandbox and integrate it directly into their application. Even pricing was different.

Stripe chose to simplify pricing dramatically by starting with a single, simple price for all cards and not breaking out cards by type even though the costs for AmEx cards versus Visa can differ. Stripe also did away with a monthly minimum fee that competitors had.

Many competitors used the monthly minimum to offset the high cost of support for new customers who weren’t necessarily processing payments yet. Stripe flipped that on its head. Developers integrate Stripe earlier than they integrated payments before, and while it costs Stripe a lot in setup and support costs, it pays off in brand and loyalty.

Checkr is another excellent example of an API-first company vastly simplifying a massive yet slow-moving industry. Very little had changed over the last few decades in how businesses ran background checks on their employees and contractors, involving manual paperwork and the help of 3rd party services that spent days verifying an individual.

Checkr’s API gives companies immediate access to a variety of disparate verification sources and allows these companies to plug Checkr into their existing on-boarding and HR workflows. It’s used today by more than 10,000 businesses including Uber, Instacart, Zenefits and more.

Like Checkr and Stripe, Plaid provides a similar value prop to applications in need of banking data and connections, abstracting away banking relationships and complexities brought upon by a lack of tech in a category dominated by hundred-year-old banks. Plaid has shown an incredible ramp these past three years, from closing a $12 million Series A in 2015 to reaching a valuation over $2.5 billion this year.

Today the company is fueling an entire generation of financial applications, all on the back of their well-built API.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 10.41.02 AM

Graphics courtesy of Accel

Then and now

Accel’s first API investment was in Braintree, a mobile and web payment systems for e-commerce companies, in 2011. Braintree eventually sold to, and became an integral part of, PayPal as it spun out from eBay and grew to be worth more than $100 billion. Unsurprisingly, it was shortly thereafter that our team decided to it was time to go big on the category. By the end of 2014 we had led the Series As in Segment and Checkr and followed those investments with our first APX conference in 2015.

Plaid, Segment, Auth0, and Checkr had only raised Seed or Series A financings! And we are even more excited and bullish on the space. To convey just how much API-first businesses have grown in such a short period of time, we thought it would be useful perspective to share some metrics over the past five years, which we’ve broken out in the two visuals included above in this article.

While SaaS may have pioneered the idea that the best way to do business isn’t to actually build everything in-house, today we’re seeing APIs amplify this theme. At Accel, we firmly believe that APIs are the next big SaaS wave — having as much if not more impact as its predecessor thanks to developers at today’s fastest-growing startups and their preference for API-first products. We’ve actively continued to invest in the space (in companies like, Scale, mentioned above).

And much like how a robust ecosystem developed around SaaS, we believe that one will continue to develop around APIs. Given the amount of progress that has happened in just a few short years, Accel is hosting our second APX conference to once again bring together this remarkable community and continue to facilitate discussion and innovation.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 10.41.10 AM

Graphics courtesy of Accel

Aug
28
2019
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ReadMe scores $9M Series A to help firms customize API docs

Software APIs help different tools communicate with one another, let developers access essential services without having to code it themselves and are critical components for driving a platform-driven strategy. Yet they require solid documentation to help make the best use of them. ReadMe, a startup that helps companies customize their API documentation, announced a $9 million Series A today led by Accel with help from Y Combinator. The company was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2015 cohort.

Prior to today’s funding announcement, the company had taken just a $1.2 million seed round in 2014. Today, it reports 3,000 paying customers and that it has been profitable for the last several years, an unusual position for a startup. In spite of this success, co-founder and CEO Gregory Koberger said as the company has taken on larger customers, they have more sophisticated requirements, and that prompted them to take this round of funding.

In addition, it has expanded the platform to use a company’s API logs to help create more dynamic documentation and improve customer support kinds of scenarios. But by taking on data from other companies, it needs to make sure the data is secure, and today’s funding will help in that regard.

“We’re going to still build the company traditionally by hiring more engineers, more support people, more designers, the obvious stuff, but the main impetus for doing this was that we started working with bigger companies with more secure data. So a lot of the money is going to help make sure that we handle that right,” Koberger explained.

Screenshot 2019 08 28 10.55.38

Image: ReadMe

He says this ability to make use of the API logs has opened up all kinds of possibilities for the company, as the data provides a valuable window into how people use the APIs. “It’s amazing how much you get by just actually seeing what the server sees. When people are having problems with an API, they can debug it themselves because they can actually see the problems, the support team can see it as well,” Koberger said.

Accel’s Dan Levine, whose firm is leading the investment, believes that having good documentation is the difference between making and breaking an API. “APIs don’t just create technical integration, they create ecosystems around core services and underpin corporate partnerships that generate billions of dollars. ReadMe is as much a strategy as it is a service for businesses. Providing clean, interactive, data-driven API documentation to make developers love working with you can be the difference between 100 partnerships or 1,000 partnerships,” Levine said.

ReadMe was founded in 2014. It has 22 employees in their San Francisco office, a number that should increase with today’s funding.

Jun
19
2019
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Postman raises $50 million to grow its API development platform

Postman, a five-year-old startup that is attempting to simplify development, tests and management of APIs through its platform, has raised $50 million in a new round to scale its business.

The Series B for the startup, which began its journey in India, was led by CRV and included participation from existing investor Nexus Venture Partners . The startup, with offices in India and San Francisco, closed its Series A financing round four years ago and has raised $58 million to date.

Postman offers a development environment which a developer or a firm could use to build, publish, document, design, monitor, test and debug their APIs. Postman, like some other startups such as RapidAPI, also maintains a marketplace to offer APIs for quick integration with other popular services.

The startup was co-founded by Abhinav Asthana, a former intern at Yahoo . Asthana was frustrated with how APIs were an afterthought for many developers, as they usually got around to building them in the eleventh hour. Additionally, developers were relying on their own workflows and there was no organized platform that could be used by many, he explained in an interview with TechCrunch.

Even big software firms have not looked into this space yet, and many have instead become a customer of Postman. “We are solving a fundamental problem for the technology landscape. Big companies tend to be slower as they have many other things on their plate,” said Asthana.

Five years later, Postman has grown significantly. More than 7 million users and 300,000 companies, including Microsoft, Twitter, Best Buy, AMC Theaters, PayPal, Shopify, BigCommerce and DocuSign today use Postman’s platform.

The modern software development relies heavily on APIs as more businesses begin to talk with one another. According to research firm Gartner, more than 65% of global infrastructure service providers’ revenue will be generated through services enabled by APIs by 2023, up from 15% in 2018.

Asthana said Postman intends to use the fresh capital to scale its startup, products and grow its team. “We are scaling rapidly across all dimensions. There are many use cases that we still want to address over the coming months. We will also experiment with sales and invest in improving user experience,” he added.

Postman offers some of its services in limited capacity for free to users. For the rest, it charges between $8 to $18 per user to its customers. That’s how the company generates revenue. Asthana declined to share the financial performance of the startup, but said its customer base was “growing phenomenally.”

Postman said CRV general partner Devdutt Yellurkar has joined its board of directors.

Apr
09
2019
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Apigee jumps on hybrid bandwagon with new API for hybrid environments

This year at Google Cloud Next, the theme is all about supporting hybrid environments, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Apigee, the API company it bought in 2016 for $265 million, is also getting into the act. Today, Apigee announced the Beta of Apigee Hybrid, a new product designed for hybrid environments.

Amit Zavery, who recently joined Google Cloud after many years at Oracle, and Nandan Sridhar, describe the new product in a joint blog post as “a new deployment option for the Apigee API management platform that lets you host your runtime anywhere—in your data center or the public cloud of your choice.”

As with Anthos, the company’s approach to hybrid management announced earlier today, the idea is to have a single way to manage your APIs no matter where you choose to run them.

“With Apigee hybrid, you get a single, full-featured API management solution across all your environments, while giving you control over your APIs and the data they expose and ensuring a unified strategy across all APIs in your enterprise,” Zavery and Sridhar wrote in the blog post announcing the new approach.

The announcement is part of an overall strategy by the company to support a customer’s approach to computing across a range environments, often referred to as hybrid cloud. In the Cloud Native world, the idea is to present a single fabric to manage your deployments, regardless of location.

This appears to be an extension of that idea, which makes sense given that Google was the first company to develop and open source Kubernetes, which is at the forefront of containerization and Cloud Native computing. While this isn’t pure Cloud Native computing, it is keeping true to its ethos and it fits in the scope of Google Cloud’s approach to computing in general, especially as it is being defined at this year’s conference.

Apr
01
2019
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Mailgun changes hands again as Thoma Bravo buys majority stake

Mailgun, an email API delivery service, announced today that it was selling a majority stake in the company to private equity firm Thoma Bravo. The companies did not share terms, but this is the second owner in the company’s eight-year history.

Mailgun provides API services for building email functionality into applications. It has more than 150,000 customers using its APIs, according to data provided by the company.

In a blog post announcing the investment, CEO William Conway said the new money should help the company expand its capabilities and accelerate the product roadmap, a common refrain from companies about to be acquired.

“We will be investing millions in the development of products you can use to enhance your deliverability, gain more insights into your emails and deliver an unparalleled experience for your customers. We’re also doubling down on customer success and enablement to ensure our customers have exactly what they need to scale their communications,” Conway wrote in the blog post.

The company, which was founded in 2010 and was a part of the Y Combinator Winter 2011 cohort, has had a complex history. Rackspace acquired it in 2012 and held onto it until 2017, when it spun out into a private company. At that point, Turn/River, another private equity firm, invested $50 million in the company. After today’s deal, Turn/River will maintain a minority ownership stake in Mailgun.

Mailgun typically competes with companies like Mailchimp and SendGrid. Thoma Bravo has a history of buying enterprise software companies. Most recently, it bought a majority stake in enterprise software company Apttus. It also has investments in SolarWinds, SailPoint and Blue Point Systems.

Thoma Bravo did not respond to a request for comment before publishing.

Jan
14
2019
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Salesforce Commerce Cloud updates keep us shopping with AI-fueled APIs

As people increasingly use their mobile phones and other devices to shop, it has become imperative for vendors to improve the shopping experience, making it as simple as possible, given the small footprint. One way to do that is using artificial intelligence. Today, Salesforce announced some AI-enhanced APIs designed to keep us engaged as shoppers.

For starters, the company wants to keep you shopping. That means providing an intelligent recommendation engine. If you searched for a particular jacket, you might like these similar styles, or this scarf and gloves. That’s fairly basic as shopping experiences go, but Salesforce didn’t stop there. It’s letting developers embed this ability to recommend products in any app, whether that’s maps, social or mobile.

That means shopping recommendations could pop up anywhere developers think it makes sense, like on your maps app. Whether consumers see this as a positive thing, Salesforce says when you add intelligence to the shopping experience, it increases sales anywhere from 7-16 percent, so however you feel about it, it seems to be working.

The company also wants to make it simple to shop. Instead of entering a multi-faceted search, as has been the traditional way of shopping in the past — footwear, men’s, sneakers, red — you can take a picture of a sneaker (or anything you like) and the visual search algorithm should recognize it and make recommendations based on that picture. It reduces data entry for users, which is typically a pain on the mobile device, even if it has been simplified by checkboxes.

Salesforce has also made inventory availability as a service, allowing shoppers to know exactly where the item they want is available in the world. If they want to pick up in-store that day, it shows where the store is on a map and could even embed that into your ridesharing app to indicate exactly where you want to go. The idea is to create this seamless experience between consumer desire and purchase.

Finally, Salesforce has added some goodies to make developers happy, too, including the ability to browse the Salesforce API library and find the ones that make the most sense for what they are creating. This includes code snippets to get started. It may not seem like a big deal, but as companies the size of Salesforce increase their API capabilities (especially with the MuleSoft acquisition), it’s harder to know what’s available. The company has also created a sandboxing capability to let developers experiment and build capabilities with these APIs in a safe way.

The basis of Commerce Cloud is Demandware, the company Salesforce acquired two years ago for $2.8 billion. Salesforce’s intelligence platform is called Einstein. In spite of its attempt to personify the technology, it’s really about bringing artificial intelligence across the Salesforce platform of products, as it has with today’s API announcements.

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