Color

There’s been so much discussion on Color that there are even posts talking about how much discussion there has been. Regardless of this, I am going to tell you what I think of it and why I think it’s a poor concept and why it won’t fly—at least with me. I’d love to be proven wrong (and I think Sequoia would love for me to be proven wrong as well, with a pre-launch $41 million round that’s the talk of the town), but let’s roll with this.

I can’t figure out what the hell it does.

I mean, I know what it does—basically—from having read a bunch of things about it tonight, but here’s the scenario from this afternoon. I hear about this. I think “hey, I might want to check it out.”

So my-located-in-suburban-St.-Louis self goes and downloads the app. It asks me for my first name and asks me to take a picture, which I do. Now what do I do? The only instruction is to “take pictures together.” With a cat? With my kids? With my guitar? I know it’s location-based because it asked me to turn on location services. But I don’t know anything else other than that it wants me to take pictures.

How am I connected with other people? Are these pictures going anywhere? Are they accessible by some sort of location?

And if you look at the Color site, you’ll see that it doesn’t help much, either. This is minimalism taken too far.

Taking a picture shows me that picture. Twice.

The discoverability of the app, at least from my perspective, is quite low. And this is only going to get worse with the next update, as mentioned in a Mashable interview:

In order to get value out of Color someone else has to be nearby using the app. “Otherwise it’s going to make no sense,” he told me. So the app will feature two major changes when the next update ships: You won’t be able to use the app if nobody is nearby, and Color will be changing the distance required for somebody to be considered nearby.

The first change is a pretty significant one; if you launch the app in the middle of nowhere, you’re essentially going to be locked out. This is designed to prevent you from opening the app and simply having nothing to do or see.

Suburban St. Louis probably qualifies as “the middle of nowhere.” So great—now, instead of something I might be able to figure out, the app is going to tell me to get some friends—which leads us to the next point.

It commits the “iPhone review sin.”

By this, what I mean is that in every iPhone review ever, there is whining about the reception of the iPhone. I have never experienced this problem—except when visiting San Francisco or at SXSW. Every review of the iPhone and most people who complain about the reception live in San Francisco or New York. Not everyone who uses one of these things lives in San Francisco or New York (and I’m OK dealing with it the few weeks per year I might be either there or at SXSW).

The application assumes, and I am going to guess will only work well or be useful, if you live in a densely populated, urban area. Or, given that the default range is 150 feet, you would have to be in the same place at the same time. And everyone would need to have the app running at once.

I’m not sure that’s going to happen at the proper rate to create a critical mass enough to sustain the network. In my case, it makes it nearly useless.

Michael Waxman says on this:

But here’s why I think Color will ultimately fail: It is not designed to work as a small network, only as a massively large one. This is a fatal flaw, because if the experience for early users is bad, it will never be able grow to the scale at which it would have become useful.

In other words, you can’t launch an application that only works at scale; it needs to work with few users, too, so that it can get to scale.

And when I do get together with—say, my colleagues at Automattic—will it then remember our connections? Will I be able to access those things no matter where I am? Will it retain connections to those people later? As someone at the smaller end of the scale, it’s too hard for me to figure out what the benefits are, and I would only be using it a few weeks out of the year anyway.

It removes the decision of who is in my social network.

A lot of people are talking about this being the truly revolutionary thing about Color, and I’ll agree that it’s certainly a novel approach to the creation and maintenance of social networks. Perhaps I’m unusual in that the majority of my friends and acquaintances are spread out around the world.

But that’s why I use social connections like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. These tools allow me to decide who is in my social circles and it’s a voluntary association. In the case of Facebook, it’s two-way, where only those people where we form an “approved” relationship receive my notices and updates. Twitter is a short-form version of open association, but people still choose to follow me (and I choose to follow who I want).

The blog is yet another way to create these social circles. There are some that I follow and some that I don’t. If you want to follow me, you can. In all of the cases above, I use brain filtering to further decide what I pay attention to (some people receive priority in my attention over others).

Here, it seems (though I’ll admit I can’t find out yet) that the people in my social circle are decided for me based solely on location. I’m not sure that’s a great idea. It does remove some of the discoverability of adding people to my social circles, but then how can I communicate with those people and add them to my other social groups? Does it help me point people back to my blog? To my Facebook account? Only my first name is shown.

And when I take a picture, is that (and/or my profile picture) available to everyone within the 150 feet? This leads to a final problem:

There’s no wang filter.

I suppose it’s a good thing this was released after SXSW. If it had been at SXSW, the elapsed time before a penis showed up on your iPhone probably could not have been measured. Xbox Live Vision users may have some experience with this. Hopefully, there’s a “don’t show me photos from this idiot ever again” feature.

At least my other social networks allow me to pick and choose the people who are likely not to do this.

Closing thoughts?

I believe the are interesting ideas within Color, and I think there are things to learn from this approach.

Do I think it will ultimately be successful and become the next big thing? No. I’m not even sure it’s going to dethrone Instragram as the reigning photo application (and I think the constant photo apps are getting old, especially when I don’t really control my own content).

I’m not sure I’m interested in an app where the CEO of the startup behind it says this, either:

According to Nguyen, Color is built on some serious technology. The company has six patents pending and sees itself as “much more of a research company and a data mining company than a photo sharing site.”

As such, Nguyen explains that Color can ingest and analyze four times the amount of data than Google did in its early days. This, not a tech “bubble” or an early exit, justifies the $41 million investment.

“We have no interest whatsoever in being acquired,” said Nguyen. “This is purely what we need to operate. There are real data needs and real capital costs.”

$41 million to operate? At least they’re being honest about the data mining.

And though there’s a hint in the aforelinked piece about advertising, I don’t see a revenue model here (but then again, I don’t see one in Instagram, either).

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