NebulaGraph reaps from China’s growing appetite for graph databases

Graph databases, which store information in nodes and relationships instead of tables like Excel sheets, have grown in popularity amid an explosion of data across industries. While TigerGraph and Neo4j have dominated the Western market, China is seeing its own homegrown pioneers in the space.

NebulaGraph is one of China’s fastest-growing startups offering graph databases with open-source and enterprise subscription options. Two years after we covered its $8 million funding round, the company announced this week that it has closed a Series A round led by Jeneration Capital. The company did not specify how much it has raised, only saying it’s in the “low tens of millions” of dollars.

Other investors in the round include Matrix Partner China, Redpoint China Ventures, and Source Code Capital.

NebulaGraph has recorded some encouraging growth over the last two years, during which its user number soared to over 900 from just 60, including freemium and paid ones. The types of users have also broadened. Two years ago, customers were mainly using NebulaGraph to explore data relationships on social media, e-commerce, and fintech platforms. Since then, the startup has attracted companies from the manufacturing sector, the most surprising ones being electric vehicle and airplane makers.

The EV supply chain is highly sophisticated and each car sale can generate reams of data from the design stage to after it ships, said founder and CEO Sherman Yu, who previously worked at Ant Group and Meta. Even a small defect in a nail could have a big ripple effect on the vehicle, so manufacturers keep a mountain of information detailing the conditions of various parts, such as which supplier and even worker is responsible for them.

That’s not the end of data collection. In today’s hyper customization, internet-connected vehicles are also learning driver and passenger behavior. That means auto companies need more robust tools to process the ocean of data they own, which is where graph databases come into play.

“You could still find relationships in data before, but relational databases become very slow as the data set grows,” explained Yu. Much of what NebulaGraph does for its customers is real-time, like shopping recommendations, so speed is critical.

Other emerging user cases for NebulaGraph include AI-based drug discovery and chip design, Yu added.

Some 90% of the company’s users are in China, but like many maturing open source SaaS firms, NebulaGraph has a vision of venturing into the West and building a global developer community. The company’s plan to open an office in the U.S. was “stalled” by the COVID-19 pandemic, Yu said, but it’s retooling resources to bring back global expansion in 2023.

While many of China’s consumer-oriented startups are going global as regulatory uncertainties rise at home, NebulaGraph wants a piece of the Western SaaS market because it’s “more mature,” said Yu.

With the world’s largest internet population, China clearly has an abundance of data to mine. The problem is that from scrappy startups to deep-pocketed corporations, the willingness to pay for SaaS remains low. That’s in part due to China’s long history of software piracy and its relatively low labor costs, which make workplace automation less urgent than in the West.

There’s also a legacy accounting issue, Yu explained. Till today, China still hasn’t formally classified computer software — whether it should be categorized as assets or costs, making it tricky for companies to do their books.

NebulaGraph reaps from China’s growing appetite for graph databases by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Singapore’s KNN3 wants to enable social discovery for decentralized apps

There’s no shortage of startups trying to make sense of the explosive growth of data generated from blockchain applications. Nansen has the support from a16z to provide on-chain data analysis for crypto investors. The Graph offers an API for developers to query blockchain data. The latest to get VC recognition is KNN3, a Singapore-based startup working to help developers make sense of relational data across blockchains.

When we get on a social network, the first thing that surfaced is normally suggestions for following. This information is based on analyses of our digital footprint history. KNN3 wants to do the same in web3 by building graph databases that analyze users’ relationships, status, memberships, and other on-chain actions.

The blockchain data space is already quite crowded, co-founder Thomas Yu admitted, but there’s still room for more specialized services. Nansen and web3 development platform Alchemy come in the form of centralized SaaS products. The Graph is “programmable”, but the data structure it supports is quite “limited”, Yu argued.

That’s why Yu, along with his former BTC China colleague Errance Liu, set out to build KNN3, a permissionless (hence decentralized) tool for developers to draw insight from cross-blockchain user data.

KNN3 is starting out by targeting consumer-facing dApps in Asia. While much of web3’s infrastructure building is happening in the West, Asia is generally regarded as the innovation hub of consumer applications, highlighted by the popularity of GameFi platforms like Axie Infinity and StepN. One of KNN3’s better-known customers is Mask Network, which enables users to send cryptocurrencies on web2 services and is now building a decentralized identity system using KNN3’s tech.

In the U.S., in contrast, KNN3 plans to go after enterprise-facing organizations like Chainlink, which feeds real-life data called “oracles” into smart contracts and where Yu used to work. KNN3 is weighing a new product that would provide cloud services built on top of Chainlink’s oracles, which, eventually, will allow developers to build and run decentralized apps and smart contracts without worrying about the “fundamental data layer.”

“What that means is that a developer can use a web2 tool like Google Cloud but actually is building a web3 tool, rather than writing a smart contract and making it work across chains. KNN3 has built the trustless infrastructure using oracles and developers can simply run a container within it,” explained Yu.

KNN3 said it has raised $2.4 million in a seed funding round led by the crypto-focused venture capital firm HashGlobal and Liang Xinjun, former vice chair and CEO of Chinese conglomerate Fosun International. The round closed in April but was only announced it this month.

The seed investment also had a long string of participating investors — a seemingly popular strategy for blockchain startups to form allies early on. They include Mask Network, MetaWeb Venture, Eniac Venture, Tess Venture, Stratified Capital, Fundamental lab, Incuba Alpha, Zeuth Venture, Cogitent Venture, Atlas Capital; Impossible Finance, RSS3, ShowMe, and ETHsign’s co-founders Yan Xin and Potter Li.

KNN3 currently employs a team of 24 across Singapore, China, Europe, and the U.S. With the funding, it looks to attract more tech talent from Silicon Valley. “It’s a good time to hire in the bear market because a lot of rivals are downsizing,” Yu said.

Singapore’s KNN3 wants to enable social discovery for decentralized apps by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Private equity’s gatekeepers get serious about tokens

Welcome to Chain Reaction, where we unpack and explain the latest in crypto news, drama and trends, breaking things down block by block for the crypto curious.

For our Thursday episode this week, we dug into the institutional embrace of blockchain by stodgy financial powerhouses including mega PE firm KKR which announced this week that they were tokenizing one of their latest funds to provide access to slightly less rich wealthy investors. While it’s far from pervasive financial democratization, the move attracted a lot of attention, which we dissected.

We also covered:

  • A Supergroup of financial institutions including Fidelity, Schwab and Citadel are teaming up to build a new digital asset exchange called the EDXM. Is this a signal of institutional fervor or just more groupthink?
  • The White House’s Office of Science and Tech Policy released a sweeping report on the energy usage of the cryptocurrency industry; The report signals future pressures on Bitcoin miners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or else.

Chain Reaction comes out every Tuesday and Thursday at 12:00 p.m. PT, so be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast and Spotify to keep up with the action.

Private equity’s gatekeepers get serious about tokens by Lucas Matney originally published on TechCrunch

Miners flee to Ethereum Classic as ‘the Merge’ arrives

The Merge, the long-awaited software upgrade that promises to make Ethereum transactions a lot greener, is expected to put miners out of jobs. But miners are not quitting outright. With big bucks invested in computing hardware, many of them are seeking refuge in an alternative branch of Ethereum.

Ethereum Classic, a hard fork of the Ethereum network, saw its hash rate soar to a record high on Thursday morning shortly after the Merge was completed. Hash rate is the computational power used to approve transactions on a blockchain, a mechanism called proof-of-work. Following the Merge, Ethereum is switching to a consensus method called proof-of-stake. Instead of competing with powerful computers and essentially chips, node operators stake their cryptocurrencies to win the chance to validate transactions.

Ethereum Classic, which trades as ETC, grew out of an ideological rift within the Ethereum community. In 2016, the Ethereum Foundation underwent a hard fork to reverse a significant hack that involved $150 million of investor funds. The other version of the fork, which became Ethereum Classic, kept the hack in order to preserve the immutability proposed by blockchain technology.

Aside from keeping the network’s ledgers pristine, Ethereum Classic also continues to practice the PoW method, attracting miners made redundant by the mainstream Ethereum (ETH). But the classic blockchain is far less popular than Ethereum today. ETC is currently the 17th largest cryptocurrency with a market cap of just around $5.3 billion, while ETH is hovering around $195 billion.

Nonetheless, miners are piling into ETC, which might undermine some of the environmental benefits of the Merge. As James, who has been mining since 2017, said: “ETH is an abandoned project by the ETH foundation and we are the abandoned miners. Rigs are invested and facilities are set up with nowhere to go. The only viable option at the moment is Ethereum classic.”

“Miners did not stop mining, they just shift to other options to mine. Energy consumption continued,” he added.

Mining was a hugely lucrative business for those who got in early. Bitmain, the world’s largest crypto equipment maker, was racking up a net profit of nearly $1 billion in the first half of 2018 as demand soared. The gold rush has unintended consequences, too, as its reliance on computational power exacerbated the global chip shortage over the past few years.

The U.S. is the world’s largest source of hash rate today with China coming in second, according to research from the University of Cambridge. China was for a long time the world’s top mining hub before Bejing imposed a blanket ban on the industry it deemed polluting and obsolete. Its share of Bitcoin hash rate accounted for up to 90% of the world’s total in September 2020 before crashing to zero following the crackdown in July 2021, but the number has since rebounded as many miners are believed to have resumed work in a more discreet manner.

Miners flee to Ethereum Classic as ‘the Merge’ arrives by Rita Liao originally published on TechCrunch

Lido, Coinbase, Kraken and Binance stake majority of ETH. Does that matter?

The Ethereum network is nearing its final hours before the Merge, which will move one of the most important global blockchains from a proof-of-work (PoW) system of achieving consensus to proof-of-stake (PoS).

The upgrade to the blockchain has raised concerns in the crypto community that Ethereum could become less decentralized — more centralized — by moving to PoS from PoW, the latter of which powers the Bitcoin blockchain, for example.

Concerns regarding an increase in centralization due to PoS on the Ethereum blockchain post-Merge may have some merit. The current Ethereum staking market — staking is how Ethereum token (ETH) holders could contribute to the Merge before its execution and how consensus and new tokens will be distributed afterward — isn’t as decentralized as some may think.

Lido, Coinbase, Kraken and Binance stake majority of ETH. Does that matter? by Jacquelyn Melinek originally published on TechCrunch

Arpeggi Labs banks a16z funding to build web3 music software

The quest to define what exactly a web3 use case looks like hasn’t always been easy, but has allowed plenty of founders to get creative in building out products designed to tap the ethos of decentralization and the business opportunities of the creator economy.

Arpeggi Labs, a new crypto startup focused on using blockchains to make music creation more collaborative, has scored $5.1 million in seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm alongside a host of artists including names like Steve Aoki, 3LAU and Wyclef Jean.

The team’s goal is to tap the blockchain to build a music creation suite that bakes in an open source ethos, allowing producers to sample a wide variety of songs and sounds while the platform ensures that credit always flows back to original creators appropriately.

Founders Evan Dhillon, Kyle Dhillon and James Pastan believe that this setup will encourage a new type of “remix culture” to permeate through the music industry, allowing TikTok-like creative repurposing of IP that will lift all of the creators that contributed to a viral hit. This is a functionality that may not innately require the blockchain, but Arpeggi’s founders say the technology simply makes it easier.

“In music, we’ve seen people immediately resist anything in web3 because they see it as a scam,” co-founder Pastan tells TechCrunch. “We’ve abstracted as much of the crypto as we can… and we’ve always leaned away from the speculative element.”

To make this dream happen, Arpeggi is aiming to go beyond developing a protocol and build an entire in-browser digital audio workstation that allows producers to mix blockchain-minted beats while integrating with the wider arena of web2 and web3 music platforms.

The free platform not only serves as a hub for creation but consumption, an opportunity that may align blockchain incentives but could also present a daunting challenge for finding a cohesive audience.

While the company hasn’t landed on whether they’re looking to issue a token for the platform down the road, the founders say they are mainly focused on enticing music professionals who haven’t already aligned themselves with the web3 mantra, but are excited about the idea of the industry doubling down on open source.

Any sounds that you hear are sounds that you should create with,” co-founder Kyle Dhillon tells TechCrunch.

Arpeggi Labs banks a16z funding to build web3 music software by Lucas Matney originally published on TechCrunch

Google Photos redesigns its Memories feature with vertical swiping, more video, and other creative tools

As consumer social apps shift their focus to video for social expression and adopt more creative tools, like those for collage-making, Google Photos’ often more utilitarian app will now do the same. The company today announced an upgrade to Google Photos and its app for mobile devices that will better highlight users’ videos, create visual effects with photos set to music, introduce its own collage editor, and more.

The additions are a part of a larger upgrade to Google Photos’ Memories feature, first introduced in 2019.

A combination of something like Stories and Facebook’s Memories, Google Photos Memories similarly helps users look back at their older photos, organized into collections at the top of the app’s main screen — where Stories are often found in social apps. Last year, Google Photos upgraded Memories using machine learning technology to identify patterns across your photos, and added other types of Memories, like those that highlighted things like events and holidays.

Now, Google is rolling out another redesign to Memories, which introduces more video into the experience.

The service will automatically select and trim the best snippets from your longer videos using machine learning as part of this enhancement, Google says.

The changes come at a time when tech companies are seeing increased use of video among users. Meta earlier this year said Reels was making up 20% of time users spent on Instagram and video overall makes up 50% of the time users spent on Facebook, for example. Google Photos is seeing a similar trend. The company tells TechCrunch video uploads grew 4 times faster than photo uploads over the past two years, which is why it’s chosen to invest in more video tools.

The updated version of Google Photos will also do more with music, including by adding music to more Memories and setting multiple still photos to music in its “Cinematic Photos” visual effect feature. Launched in 2020, Cinematic Photos leverages machine learning to create 3D versions of your photos by predicting the image’s depth, then animating a smooth panning effect. It later expanded this effect to include stitched-together photos it called Cinematic Moments, which also give an illusion of a more 3D-like image.

Another new set of features in today’s update is focused on enhancing creativity and social sharing.

This includes a new feature called Styles, which automatically adds graphic art to your Memories by placing them on colorful backgrounds, for instance. Artists Shantell Martin and Lisa Congdon contributed to this feature at launch.

And as demand for Pinterest’s new collage maker Shuffles heats up, Google Photos is jumping on this trend with its own collage editor that will let users select a design, pick out and edit photos, then rearrange their layout using drag-and-drop controls.

Image Credits: Google

Photo Memories can also now be shared with friends and family, starting on Android with iOS and web to come.

A smaller, but interesting addition — and one not noted by Google’s official announcement — involves how you navigate through Memories following the update.

While you can still tap left or right to move between the photos within a given Memory — as you would with most Stories — when you move through Memories, you’ll now swipe up and down.

This user interface design choice, of course, is a nod to TikTok, whose vertical video feed has infiltrated so many top consumer apps.

And with Memories becoming more video-heavy with this update, it’s possible that some users’ retrospectives will now feel more like personal, private TikToks rather than static Stories going forward.

The updates are rolling out today to Google Photos and its mobile app.

Google Photos redesigns its Memories feature with vertical swiping, more video, and other creative tools by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Meltem Demirors on why society isn’t ready for a crypto-driven revolution yet

Meltem Demirors hasn’t just been working in crypto for seven years — she’s been shaping its trajectory. Demirors, chief strategy officer at publicly traded European digital asset manager CoinShares, got her start in the space when she went to MIT for business school and became immersed in the world of fintech startups, back when Bitcoin was the only major cryptocurrency in mainstream discourse. Soon after, she met Barry Silbert and Ryan Selkis, founders of crypto investment firm Digital Currency Group, and got involved as one of the company’s earliest employees.

The rest is history, as Demirors told us on this Tuesday’s episode of Chain Reaction. But even though Demirors first got into this field because of Bitcoin, and still “loves” the cryptocurrency, she’s over the infighting in the crypto community, a tension that is particularly heated between Bitcoin proponents, known as “Bitcoin maxis,” and staunch supporters of other blockchains. You can listen to the full interview with Demirors below.

“I think it has become highly polarizing. People in the industry more broadly self-identify as Bitcoin maximalists, people self-identify as crypto maximalists, there are all of these labels we sort of apply. But the truth is probably much more nuanced,” Demirors said.

As with many other early adopters of crypto, Demirors’ passion for its underlying technology stemmed in some ways from the ideology that shaped Bitcoin’s inception, a largely skeptical political point of view that is critical of governments and institutions and seeks to use crypto as a means to reclaim financial power for everyday individuals.

“Everyone I interact with [in Bitcoin] is intellectually really engaged. There was a political element, which I found interesting because I’ve never really thought of myself as a political person,” Demirors said. Being exposed to that element got Demirors thinking about the role of money in society and our political system, which helped her make the leap from her previous corporate finance jobs into the role at Digital Currency Group after graduate school.

Demirors admits the ideological fervor behind crypto has shifted as the asset class has gained popularity.

“We’ve recognized that in order for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies to achieve adoption, we do need to collaborate with institutions,” Demirors said. “I also think there’s growing recognition that the regulatory environment necessitates certain types of behavior, as we saw in Tornado Cash recently. And so I think where we’re at now is that it doesn’t necessarily feel like revolution; it feels more like evolution.”

She added that while she believes experimentation on the fringes of cryptocurrency still feels very revolutionary from a capability perspective, systemic change will take much more than just new technology.

“It involves policy, it involves institutions and involves education and a lot of other complex cultural and societal factors. I think we still haven’t hit that major inflection point. And I think it will probably take some time to materialize,” Demirors said.

Meltem Demirors on why society isn’t ready for a crypto-driven revolution yet by Anita Ramaswamy originally published on TechCrunch

Microsoft patches a new zero-day affecting all versions of Windows

Microsoft has released security fixes for a zero-day vulnerability affecting all supported versions of Windows that has been exploited in real-world attacks.

The zero-day bug, tracked as CVE-2022-37969, is described as an elevation of privilege flaw in the Windows Common Log File System Driver, a subsystem used for data and event logging. The bug allows an attacker to obtain the highest level of access, known as system privileges, to a vulnerable device.

Microsoft says users running Windows 11 and earlier, and Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012, are affected. Windows 7 will also receive security patches, despite falling out of support in 2020

Microsoft said the flaw requires that an attacker already has access to a compromised device, or the ability to run code on the target system.

“Bugs of this nature are often wrapped into some form of social engineering attack, such as convincing someone to open a file or click a link,” said Dustin Childs, head of threat intelligence at the Zero Day Initiative (ZDI). “Once they do, additional code executes with elevated privileges to take over a system.”

Microsoft credited four different sets of researchers from CrowdStrike, DBAPPSecurity, Mandiant, and Zscaler for reporting the flaw, which may be an indication of widespread exploitation in the wild.

Dhanesh Kizhakkinan, senior principal vulnerability engineer at Mandiant, told TechCrunch that the company discovered the bug “during a proactive Offensive Task Force exploit hunting mission,” adding that the exploit appears to be standalone and is not part of an attack chain.

Microsoft did not share details about the attacks exploiting this vulnerability and did not respond to our request for comment.

The fixes arrived as part of Microsoft’s regularly scheduled monthly release of security fixes, dubbed Patch Tuesday, which includes a total of 63 vulnerabilities in various Microsoft products, including Microsoft Edge, Office, and Windows Defender.

Microsoft also released patches for a second zero-day flaw, tracked as CVE-2022-23960, which it describes as a cache speculation vulnerability known as “Spectre-BHB” affecting Windows 11 for ARM-based systems. Spectre-BHB is a variant of the Spectre v2 vulnerability, which can allow attackers to steal data from memory.

Earlier this week, Apple moved to patch a zero-day under active attack in iOS and macOS.

Microsoft patches a new zero-day affecting all versions of Windows by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch

Dope Security emerges from stealth to shake up the SWG market

San Francisco-based cybersecurity startup Dope Security has launched from stealth with $4 million in funding to modernize the secure web gateway market.

A secure web gateway, or SWG, is a network security device that acts as a barrier between users and malicious web traffic, websites with vulnerabilities, malware, and other internet-based cyber threats. While by no means sexy, SWGs have become critical during the recent shift to remote and hybrid work as employees shift from a tightly-controlled office environment to less secure home networks.

Though SWGs are an important tool for organizations whose workers no longer sit within an internal corporate network, Kunal Agarwal, founder and CEO of Dope Security, says that most legacy SWGs are no longer fit for purpose in a remote, cloud-first world.

“There’s been an emergence of secure web access and today every major organization protects or secures what you can access from your laptop,” Agarwal tells TechCrunch. “The way in which they do this is a problem. It’s the equivalent of taking a flight from London to Dublin, and stopping over in Germany.”

These stopovers, along with difficult-to-deploy solutions, lead to outages, off-device decryption, significantly slower page loads, and reduced end-user productivity, he added.

Agarwal, a cybersecurity veteran who started hacking as a child, became frustrated with legacy SWG solutions during his time at Forcepoint and Symantec, where he spent years trying to retrofit existing SWG solutions to solve problems that he says were never designed to solve. “I started to see all of these customers complain about outages, reliability, and performance problems,” Agarwal said.

It was this that led to the creation of Dope Security, a startup named after the Bay Area slang. Dope Security is a fly-direct SWG that eliminates the data center stopover architecture required by legacy providers, instead performing security directly on the endpoint. This architecture improves performance up to fourfold, according to Agarwal, and ensures privacy and reliability when securing enterprises against web-based threats.

Agarwal said his company’s technology can be deployed in under five minutes and offers network defenders insights through a cloud-based console, and integrates with Microsoft 365 and Google accounts — and is already in the hands of customers.

The company’s $4 million investment was led by Boldstart Ventures. Agarwal said the company has 30 employees, mostly former Forcepoint and Symantec employees — is already looking for the market it’s going to try to disrupt next.

“We want to build together not one product, but a whole product portfolio,” Agarwal said. “And we want customers to look at these products and say ‘yeah, that’s dope’.”

Dope Security emerges from stealth to shake up the SWG market by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch