Brazilian Startup DeskMetrics Raises Seed Round For Desktop Software Analytics

Brazilian startup DeskMetrics, which offers tools and analytics services to help developers track how their customers are using native desktop applications, has closed a $200,000 seed round from a group of regional angel investors (the startup isn’t disclosing the names of the investors involved).

DeskMetrics launched in October, offering developers a set of native components they could integrate into their desktop software to perform advanced analytics tracking. It’s a lot like a web analytics service for the desktop — with these components integrated, developers can tell when users have installed or uninstalled an app, and even which buttons they’re clicking within an application.

Obviously there’s a bit of a creepiness factor (comments in our original article note that this sounds suspiciously like spyware), but DeskMetrics points out that Microsoft has used similar technology in its own software through its Customer Experience Improvement Program. And responsible developers can (and should) always prompt for the user’s consent before recording this data.

Another competitor in this space is Eqatec.

The Kno Starts Shipping Tomorrow

You probably remember the Kno, either from the original announcement or the demo at TechCrunch Disrupt. The monster 14.1″ screens set it apart from every other tablet on the market, and the customized Ubuntu OS makes it potentially more versatile as well. The impressive technical specs had me doubting whether this device would ever actually see the light of day, or just languish in development hell until the funding ran out.

They’ve defied my expectations, however, and are actually beginning to ship to their first pre-order customers (though many are having to wait until mid-January, and are canceling their orders). The version I got to play with was pretty much final, though I haven’t had the pleasure of hefting the (in)famous dual-display version, which I expect will turn out to be an albatross around the company’s neck.

Continue reading…

LS9 Raises $30 Million More To Replace Petroleum- With Plant-Based Fuel And Chemicals

A new SEC filing revealed that LS9 — a biotechnology startup turning plant-based materials into fuel and chemicals for use within traditional petroleum-based systems — has raised a series D investment of $30 million.

The round was led by BlackRock and joined by all of LS9′s previous investors: Flagship Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners and CTTV Investments LLC, the venture capital arm of Chevron Technology Ventures LLC, according to a company spokesperson.

LS9 uses synthetic biology, or what it calls “designer microbes,” and a “single-step fermentation process,” to make proprietary biofuels. The company’s pilot plant in South San Francisco has been in operation for over two years. It acquired a larger-scale production facility in Okeechobee, Florida in early 2010. This spring, LS9 won the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) highest environmental honor.

In total, the company has raised $75 million in venture funding since 2006. LS9 plans to use the $30 million to move into commercial-scale production, and to support additional development and growth programs. TechCrunch has reached out to the company and its investors for further details.

Is Google In A Dream World? If So, Just How Close To Limbo Are They?

Well dreams, they feel real while we’re in them, right? It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.”

Cobb’s quote from Inception reminds me of something. Something going on right now, seemingly all around us. It doesn’t feel like a dream, but increasingly, I’m not so sure. Something just isn’t right. And I believe it’s Google that is doing the dreaming.

Yesterday brought news that Google was asking partners to delay large-scale unveilings of Google TV products at the upcoming CES due to concerns about the overall reaction to the current products already on the market. Obviously, despite some Sony spin, that’s not good news.

And some of us could see this coming. Not just because of odd product design choices, but also because of the history of problems in the web/TV space. Google seemed to think they could solve these issues because, well, they’re Google. They have some of the smartest people in the world working there. But the reality is that this seems to be the continuation of a trend in which Google is living in a dream world. And doesn’t realize it.

The other big example of this is with Android. Sure, the platform is a huge success now — but at what cost? Originally, Google had a grand plan to reshape not just the mobile OS market, but the entire mobile industry. They were talking about a future in which phones were given away for free, subsidized by search. That quickly changed to cheap phones subsidized by search. And that quickly changed to $199 phones subsidized by carriers. In other words, nothing changed. Why? The carriers.

Google seemed to think they could go around them and sell phones on the web directly to consumers. The carriers didn’t like that idea too much. They pulled their backing of that plan. And Google had to pull the plug.

When apps and smartphones started exploding, Google envisioned an open environment where consumers dictated to the carriers and hardware manufacturers what they wanted on their devices. That was until Google realized they needed Verizon’s help in pushing Android devices and sold their soul for bundled Blockbuster apps. Ones you couldn’t delete.

Soon, the vast majority of Android owners will have VCAST apps shoved in their faces — whether they want them or not. The open ecosystem is so open that the carriers are open to give consumers absolutely no choice. It’s more like their dream.

And what’s most disturbing about this is Google’s rhetoric. It has morphed from “wait and see” to “we think the carriers will get the message” to “we hope the carriers will get the message”. Newsflash: the carriers are not going to get the message as long as they have any shred of leverage. You know, leverage like Android’s “openness”.

In other words, the carriers are going to continue to do what they want. They’re going to continue to puke up bullshit like this.

Again, dream world. Google set out with the idea that they could change everything on their terms. Instead, they’ve changed things in the image of those actually in control.

Let’s move on to Google Music. Remember, it was supposed to launch this year. Google was just finalizing deals with the labels. It was going to be all in the cloud. It was going to be magical.

It’s so magical that it has vanished in front of our eyes.

So where is it? Again, this looks to be Google living in a bit of a dream world. They seemed to think that the labels were so eager to break Apple’s dominance in the space that they would just hand over their rights to all their music. What they didn’t consider is that even wounded dogs are hungry. Actually, wounded dogs may be especially hungry. If they smell meat, they might just rip your head off.

Google was so confident in their ability to get this service going soon that they even talked about it on stage at their biggest event of the year, Google I/O — that was exactly 7 months ago. A few months later, when negotiations presumably weren’t going too hot, they brought in some big guns with experience to help. We have 11 days left in the year. It ain’t coming.

What about Chrome OS? I, for one, love the idea. But the current execution is pretty bad. Bad to the point where I’m wondering how long it will be until it gets better? Remember last year when we were promised Chrome OS netbooks by this holiday season? The Cr-48 is essentially a lump of coal that only a few unlucky kids got.

Further, there are no shortage of critics out there who believe Chrome OS will never amount to anything. That includes people with prominent Google pedigrees. Google was supposed to shake up and dominate the netbook industry with Chrome OS. Then the netbook industry fizzled out. So now it’s the notebook industry. And some assertions are that it will eventually end Windows dominance in the workplace.

You could certainly argue that is the most outrageous dream yet. That may be a dream within a dream. Maybe even two levels deep. Maybe close to “limbo”.

Still, it’s great to dream big. And Google has the ability to do that thanks to a huge amount of revenue coming in as a result of the original times when they had big dreams. But the world was different then. Well, actually, it was just a different world. Search engines were just starting to pop up. Google came along and did it right. Search monetization was basically nothing. Google came along and did it right.

With Google TV, Android, Google Music, Chrome OS, and a range of other products, Google is trying to change established industries. And they seem to think they can just because they’re Google. But as we’re seeing again and again, they’re having a lot of issues.

And again, just to be perfectly clear, I’m not saying Google shouldn’t try to change these industries. All of them need to be disrupted — in some cases very badly. I’m just not sure about Google’s execution on any of them.

In some cases, they set out with the right idea (Android), then have to make concessions to the point of bolstering the status quo. In other cases, they walk into an industry (Google TV) and arrogantly expect everyone to love them, only to watch all the major players quickly leave them hanging out to dry.

I’m really starting to worry that we’re nearing “limbo” in this Google dream. And we’ll never wake up.

[images: Warner Bros.]

Internal AOL Email Announcing About.Me Acquisition

We’re part of the AOL family here at TechCrunch, but they don’t trust us with much actual information. We don’t get the emails sent out to all employees, for example. So when I get my hands on one I certainly don’t feel bad about posting it here.

Here’s the email to all AOL staff (except us) from executive Brad Garlinghouse announcing the About.Me acquisition from earlier today.

I love that they link to my profile at the very end, but don’t trust us with the email. Probably a good call, actually.

AOLers –

Facebook, Twitter and others have demonstrated how profound the ability to express and manage your identity is on the internet. As we continue to evolve our consumer experiences, we want to deliver a ground breaking approach to managing your identity – within AOL and beyond. It’s about more than just your Facebook or Twitter profiles, it’s about your entire online identity and providing consumers with the ability to express themselves and their individuality. If done well, this can have a tremendously positive impact on our advertising and content strategy, marrying your social graph with your “interest graph” to create a dramatically more relevant experience for consumers.

I’ll be sharing more about our vision in this area in the months ahead, but as a critical step in this journey, I’m incredibly excited to announce that Tony Conrad and the team are joining the AOL family!

Just recently launched to the public, is a site that ties users social networking profiles including Linkedin, Twitter, Email, personal blogs and more, all together in one place. In addition, it provides analytics allowing users to track how many people viewed their profile pages and which social networks they went on to view from there – appealing to the increasingly vain online audience! C’mon…who doesn’t want to know how many people have viewed their profile pages, status updates, photos and more?!

I encourage you all to check out, the tremendous roster of notable early adopters already using and build your profile! Here’s mine: It’s an incredibly well executed consumer experience and the future direction of the social web. While last week we saw competitors closing down innovative products, we’re playing offense and building next generation web experiences for consumers.

Tony Conrad is not only one of the most innovative, inspiring and influential people in Silicon Valley, he’s also a former AOLer and we’re lucky to have him back at the company. He and the team will be based in Palo Alto and Tony will report directly to me.

Please join me in welcoming them to the AOL family.

All the best,

PS – here are some other AOL’ers pages to check out:

Information provided by CrunchBase

Adobe Has Its First $1 Billion Quarter, Revenue Up 33%

Software maker Adobe has once again posted record revenue results this quarter, surpassing the $1 billion milestone for the first time. Adobe revenue for the fourth quarter of 2010 was $1.008 billion versus $757.3 million reported for the fourth quarter of 2009 and $990.3 million reported in the third quarter of 2010. This signifies a 33% growth from last year.

The company has also had a banner 2010 as a whole, with record revenue of $3.8 billion compared to $2.946 billion in 2009, 29% year over year growth. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen reinforced this, “We posted our first billion dollar quarter and record annual revenue in 2010, driven by outstanding performance across all of our major businesses, and we are entering 2011 with strong momentum.”

Adobe’s non-GAAP diluted earnings per share for the fourth quarter were $0.56, versus $0.39 reported in the previous year. Non-GAAP net income was $384 million, versus $265.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Adobe’s GAAP diluted earnings per share for the fourth quarter of 2010 were $0.53 versus a loss per share of $0.06 reported in the fourth quarter of 2009. GAAP net income was $286.9 million for the quarter, versus $153.6 million reported in 2009.

Adobe  has had a year filled with ups and downs as scuffles with Apple over Flash eventually turned into noble attempts at product evolution. Adobe shares are up 5% after hours today as the company beat Wall Street analyst earnings expectations.

Keen On… 2010: Monkeys Riding on the Backs of Pigs, Third Waves, & Self-Driving Cars (TCTV)

It’s that time of year again. 2010 is almost toast and it’s now time to figure out what just happened. So what were the most important developments in tech this year? Was it the rise of Groupon, Foursquare, and Twitter, the demise of Yahoo and Chatroulette, or Google’s self-driving car and the viral YouTube video of a monkey riding on the back of a pig?

And who better to figure out 2010 than two of Techcrunch’s most authoritative writers – co-editor Erick Schonfeld and prolific new recruit, the writer Alexia Tsotsis. For all their stylistic differences, Erick and Alexia agreed on much about 2010 – especially Yahoo’s demise and the rise and rise and rise of Facebook & Mark Zuckerberg. Where they parted ways, however, was over the historic significance of pig-riding monkeys and self-driving cars.

Alexia on pig-riding monkeys and self-driving cars

Erick on why the web didn’t die in 2010

Alexia on what kept her up at night in 2010

Erick on the biggest loser in 2010

Amid Photo App Gold Rush, iPhone App Of The Year, Hipstamatic, Moves To San Francisco

Synthetic Corp, the company behind the hit iPhone app, Hipstamatic, has had a very good year. Not only was their paid app one of the best-selling apps of the year, Apple bestowed the “App of the Year” crown on it a few weeks ago. And now they’re closing out the year with one more big piece of news: they’re relocating to San Francisco.

The company has actually bought an entire two-story building in San Francisco’s SoMa district (where TechCrunch is also located), CEO Lucas Allen Buick tells us. Apparently, there is some money in this apps business. The plan is to use the building, located here, as both a worldwide headquarters and a retail/gallery space where events will be held for their community.

Previously, Synthetic Corp had a Chicago office as well as some employees in New York. But they’ll all begin moving out west starting in February, we’re told. They’re currently working on renovating the building.

Buick and fellow co-founder Ryan Dorhorst actually moved out to the Bay Area in July, and have been working out of a temporary space in the city for the past six months. That, along with the larger move, shouldn’t be too surprising given the explosion in interest in the photo app space.

While Hipstamatic may have taken the App of the Year crown, they face plenty of competition from the likes of PicPlz and Instagram, both of which are based in the Bay Area. In fact, Instagram just opened their new office in the SoMa area as well (in Twitter’s original office).

Synthetic makes two other photo-based apps aside from Hipstamatic as well: IncrediBooth and SwankoLab.

Welcome to the neighborhood!

AOL Acquires Personal Profile Startup About.Me

Personal profile startup launched publicly, oh, all of four days ago. And, boom. Today AOL (our parent company), will announce that they’ve acquired the company. It will become part of the consumer applications group, led by AOL exec Brad Garlinghouse.

Making About.Me a sister company to TechCrunch.

Frankly I’m a little surprised by the acquisition.

Not because isn’t a potentially fascinating product. They had 400,000 people sign up for the service during the short beta period that began in September. Despite the simplicity of the service there’s something compelling about it.

And not because it’s not a good fit. Cofounder and CEO Tony Conrad sold his last company, Sphere, to AOL as well. And Conrad was an investor in Oddpost, which Garlinghouse acquired earlier this decade to revamp Yahoo mail. AOL seems to be genuinely excited about getting the team on board and finding ways to integrate it into their mail and instant messaging products.

But frankly it’s just too soon to take off the market. Conrad has had multiple wins as an entrepreneur and is more than financially secure. and I’m surprised he didn’t wait to see this one through a bit.

Still, it’s a big win for employees and investors, including cofounders Tim Young and Ryan Freitas. raised just $425,000 from investors including AOL Ventures and True Ventures. The size of the acquisition isn’t being disclosed but our guess is it’s in the tens of millions of dollars.

This is also the best news in world for competitor, which has a similar product. Other buyers will likely be taking a long look at them shortly.

I had a chance to sit down with Conrad for a few minutes to talk about the deal. We’re long time friends, so excuse the mutual ribbing. And don’t miss the outtakes at the end where Conrad demands a bottle of Badoit (the cadillac of mineral waters, I guess), and complains when he gets generic Costco water. He also tells us the real price for Video is top of post.

Read Tony Conrad’s blog post on the acquisition here.

Yelp Brings Scrumptious Photos To The iPad

Yelp, which has one of the most popular apps on the iPhone, today is finally available on the iPad (iTunes link). The iPad version is built for browsing, with a double-pane experience—lists and search results on the left, profiles, maps, and photos on the right. As you scroll down each listing, the larger window on the right fills with a more detailed drill-down. But what is really different about the iPad version is how it handles photos.

For every local search, you can view results as a list, on a map, or as a grid of photos. The photo view is especially helpful for restaurant searches, allowing you to pick a place to eat based on how good the food looks. Even in list-mode, when you click on a photo in a profile, it expands to take up the whole righthand window. Photos are uploaded by both Yelp users and the businesses themselves.

It is less likely you will take your iPad with you into a restaurant, or while you are shopping, than your iPhone. So the iPad app is designed more with couch browsing in mind for those “Where should we go out tonight?” moments before you actually leave the house. The two-paned approach lets you quickly sift through local search results and get the basic facts, location and photos for each place you are considering. Places can be bookmarked to revisit later.

You can also write reviews in the iPad app, something which is not allowed in the iPhone version (instead, you are encouraged to leave quick tips, check in, and upload photos). There are now 15 million reviews on Yelp, with 6 million added this year alone. Yelp encourages long, thoughtful prose over quick, bursty, shoot-from-the-hip reviews (which I think is a mistake, but that is for another post). Reviews can be share don Twitter or Facebook.

Yelp has 2.8 million active mobile users every month (versus 39 million on the Web). While they are still a small percentage overall, they account for about one third of all Yelp searches across various mobile platforms, including Android and Blackberry. Remember what Steve Jobs said about search versus apps: “When people want to find a place to go out to dinner, they are not searching. They are going into Yelp.” Now that the iPad app is going to be added to the mix, we’ll see if that holds true in the home

Information provided by CrunchBase

Envaulted Is A Cashback Program On Steroids

Cashback programs have notoriously fallen flat with users, as evidenced by Bing Cashback’s demise. Envaulted is hoping to bring new life to the cashback program as a next-generation rewards network. It’s sort of like Blippy meets Bing Cashback.

You register your credit card on the site, and Envaulted will sign you up with a 1 percent flat cashback program. Once you accrue $10, you can request a check once a month, no strings attached. You simple spend freely on your card and the startup will send you a check. It almost sounds too good to be true.

On top of the cashback program, Envaulted will track the stores where its community spends and try to negotiate deals and offers on users behalf (this is very similar to Offermatic).

Most of the time, the benefits involve cashback offers, says the startup, which is how they say they differ from Offermatic, which is more deal and discount oriented. The concept behind Envaulted is that it wants to rewarded for what you’re already shopping for, by the brands you are already loyal to.

I’m still not convinced that Envaulted is the future model of cashback programs but it is certainly capitalizing on a trend that Blippy and Swipely have made popular. Envaulted has raised $1 million in seed funding.

Information provided by CrunchBase

After Nearly A Year Of Delays, WakeMate Is Finally Shipping

If ever there was a case of a startup demonstrating the kind of hurdles involved with producing hardware, it’s WakeMate. We first wrote about the Y Combinator-funded startup over a year ago, which promises to help you kiss your groggy mornings goodbye with the help of a special wristband device that beams data about your sleeping habits to your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. The company initially planned for a shipdate of January 2010, but it’s since slipped multiple times after being plagued with problems. Finally, this weekend, WakeMate announced that it’s fulfilling all pre-orders and that they should arrive very shortly (you can get overnight shipping if you want it by Christmas Eve).

There’s one caveat — WakeMate says it can’t fulfill its international orders just yet because of “certification and shipping logistics”, which it will need some extra time to deal with. But this is still huge news for the startup given how many times it’s run into glitches and seen its release date slip over the last year, resulting in plenty of frustrated customers.

In many ways, WakeMate’s $60 sensor serves as a cheaper alternative to the Zeo Alarm Clock (which runs around $180 on Amazon) . After pairing the WakeMate device with your phone, you specify a 20 minute window during which you want the alarm to wake you up the next morning. Then, instead of blaring an alarm at 7:00AM sharp, the device will monitor your body movements throughout that 20 minute window and wake you up when you’re in your lightest stage of sleep, which can help reduce grogginess. It also keeps more detailed analytics on your sleeping habits, helping you identify trends so you can optimize your night’s sleep.

There has been one benefit that stems from the repeated WakeMate delays: the company has had time develop applications for a slew of devices, including Android phones, BlackBerry, and iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad).

Here’s an image of the devices that are now shipping

Image by HilaryAQ

Information provided by CrunchBase

Claim: We Don’t Need Net Neutrality Because The Internet Isn’t ‘Broken’

Reading Drudge and the Wall Street Journal this morning had me concerned that Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman, was going to smash my modem into tiny pieces with a +2 mace in the name of flexing regulatory muscle. Hardly. It’s true that the FCC will vote tomorrow whether or not to implement some sort of Net Neutrality regime, but considering that it’s already stated what it means to accomplish with the vote, I don’t understand why folks are so upset. But, I’m willing to listen.

Read More

Gmail’s Holiday Gift: Another Year Of Free Calling To The U.S. And Canada

I own an iPhone. I live in San Francisco. As such, it’s basically a total crapshoot as to whether or not I’ll be able to make a phone call in the city. Skype had always been a pretty good back-up solution, but an even better one came a few months ago: Gmail Calling. And now Google has just extended the free period of the feature through 2011. Yes, through next year.

Gmail Calling is great because it exists fully in the browser in an app that I always have open anyway: Gmail. If you use gChat, it’s right below your status message marked with a phone icon and the words “Call phone”. Hitting this launches a dialpad window within Gmail (similar to a chat window) and you can call any number in the U.S. or Canada for free. In my experience, the call quality and reliability have been excellent.

All of this is done by way of a Google Voice plug-in. We were all excited for the desktop version of Google Voice — which we got to test out — but Google decided to go this route instead, and I do think it’s a better idea.

When the feature launched back in August, Google would only commit to keeping it free through the end of the year — so this 1 year extension is great. But a Google representative at the time also told us that they hoped they could keep calls free indefinitely if the margins on international calls could cover the U.S./Canada ones. No word on if that’s the case yet, but again, the 1 year extension is a good sign. It currently costs 2 cents a minute to make calls through the service with dozens of other countries.

Zynga Debuts First Mobile Web Browser Game Mafia Wars Atlantic City

It’s no secret that Zynga is making a big bet on mobile, recently acquiring mobile app developer Newtoy, and launching native Farmville apps for the iPad and iPhone. In fact, as of earlier this month, Farmville for the iPhone had seen 7 million downloads with 10 million people per month accesing Zynga on a mobile device. Today, Zynga is debuting its first game designed for the mobile web: Mafia Wars Atlantic City.

According to the company, the game was built in HTML5 and has been designed specifically to be used on a browser-based smart phone or device including the iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry and WebOS devices. Mafia Wars Atlantic City is available by pointing your mobile web browser to or at GetJar.

Zynga’s bet on HTML5 (versus Flash) is also worth noting as well, which allows the games to be played on iPads and iPhones. The gaming giant recently bought Dextrose AG, which developed an HTML5-based development engine.

Zynga, which brought on former Yahoo exec David Ko as its SVP of Mobile, also recently announced Zynga Poker will be coming to Android phones this week. And Mafia Wars debuted a significant music partnership with rap artist Dr.Dre last week.

As Ko told TechCrunch’s MG Siegler at LeWeb a few weeks ago, Mobile is a huge opportunity for us. We have a huge user base to leverage, and they have some really exciting IP. Stay tuned.

Information provided by CrunchBase