March 26, 2011 | by Michael Heller
Color is getting a lot of buzz from both investors and users, both good and bad. VCs love the idea and have already put in $41 million to support the product. Users are a little confused, and not seeing the value in the app. Personally, I have to side with the VCs on this one. The idea is a simple one: create ad-hoc social networks around events or places. The trouble is that the idea requires certain conditions, and users are continually ignoring the first sentence in the app’s description: “WARNING: DON’T LAUNCH COLOR ALONE”.
Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: Color is not Instagram or picplz, and has no intention of being. This app is designed for group use. It is not for photo-sharing. The idea is that a group of people all taking pictures of the same event or the same place can have their photos automatically sorted and organized by location and matching content into an instant photo collections. This is the natural marriage of photography and crowd-sourcing. On the casual end of things, the app could build collections around sporting events, concerts, parties, or parades, but it could also encompass the same ideas as more niche apps like Foodspotting. On the active side, the app could aggregate collections of breaking news events (the company is already working on a News API), disaster reporting, delinquent public works projects in need of support (like SeeClickFix), or points to rally social activists.
The possibilities are extremely interesting, because while the idea itself is simple, the tech is quite powerful. The app doesn’t just rely on location data, but on processing actual image data and time it was taken to create collections with more meaning. Part of the purpose of the app is to find that meaning. Geo-data alone would be enough to create collections of pictures taken at the same event, but Color goes beyond that to determine what exactly at that event has captured the attention of viewers. So, rather than having information from a check-in service that a group of people like a certain spot, Color shows you what people like in that spot, and maybe even why.
Of course, all of this value relies on using the app to its full potential, and the quality of the app itself. Right now, the app is pretty buggy on Android, and has issues with hanging or freezing. The UI isn’t very intuitive either. It takes a minimalist idea a bit too far and makes it difficult to figure out exactly where the features are. But, be warned that while a number of the bad reviews are regarding bugs in the app, a lot of the bad reviews in the Market are also from people who ignored the warning to not use it alone.
In my opinion, this is an app that’s worth the time. It may be buggy now, but with $41 million in VC funding, I think they can probably fix those bugs. The team behind Color Labs Inc. has a lot of talent, so the app itself will get better. That just leaves users to get better at using the app. As with any social product, Color requires a critical mass of users, and as with any interesting idea, it needs those users to understand the product. Color is not for everyday use in everyday situations, it is a bit of a niche app. Color is designed for group events, and has the potential to gather an amazing amount of value from those events, if used correctly. It may take users some time to fully understand the value behind Color, but once they do, I think the future is very bright for this photo app.
For more in-depth info, check out the interview with Color Labs founder Bill Nguyen at BusinessWeek.