Monday, March 28, 2011

Color Has a Gray Pallor

Color logo, gradient to gray. Color is the newest social media application on the block, launched just after SxSW and relying on proximity-based media sharing instead of a friend model. Founded by names from other successful ventures along with $41 million in funding, Color seemed poised to storm the social media market.

One day after its launch, Color Labs, Inc. released an update to the Color app. Originally launched to support a 100 foot radius to find people for sharing, its new update was released to adjust that radius on the fly based on nearby activity. Considering the app is essentially useless without others who participate, this update is necessary to gain users (and necessary given it missed a great geek-dense SxSW event). When you read the opening statement in the product description in the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace, you can see that this need for others using the app nearby isn't exactly a surprise for Color:

WARNING: DON'T USE COLOR ALONE.

With so little activity visible to a user, users might look to the interface to provide some clues to using the app. After all, knowing if you are even using it correctly can manage your expectations one way or the other. Once installed, the app immediately asks for your first name, then prompts you for a photo of yourself, and then drops you right into its interface with some inexplicable icons (notwithstanding the tiny "Next" text-link-like buttons that move you along in the process). With no activity, it's hard to know what those icons do. This company-provided screen shot shows the app with its confounding icons in an ideally-active stream of content:

Image of the Color user interface.

You might be motivated to look for a help screen in the application, but you'll have no luck. You might even be motivated to go to the Color web site to look for a tutorial or some form of documentation, but no luck. It turns out that there is a demo video available on Vimeo, but Color doesn't even link it from the site — you have to find it somewhere in the copious industry press coverage, which is something the typical user won't be doing.

When the Color Labs CEO says that the company is much more of a research company and a data mining company than a photo sharing site, it seems fair to question if the technology led the product rather than a tangible business model taking the lead. Given Color's reception so far, that seems like it may very well be the case.

In the Apple App Store product page for Color, the highest rated review of the product is really a parody, comparing it to a puzzle game (images of the full description):

You conquered Myst. You understood the end of Lost. You can do this! You're not going to let this new adventure game genre get the best of you! You will master this if it takes all weekend. You discover a button to create a group! You wonder what a group is. Progress, of sorts.

Given how easy it is to spoof GPS locations on a phone, even though the Color Labs CEO says that Color doesn't rely on GPS, it's a matter of time before a method to spoof locations is widespread. Let's not forget that Color is essentially anonymous, too, requiring no validation beyond location. It won't be long before you can expect to see Color turn into nothing more than a spam outlet or Chatroulette variant. I can assure you, I would not be letting my children (non-existent though they may be) install this app on their phones.

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2 comments:

  1. I love this app. I can't wait to use it as some upcoming birthday parties & weddings. The founders have stated repeatedly that offenders will have their phone banned for life if they are found to be abusing it.

    A lot of people are afraid of "having my pictures out there" but people need to understand it's only viewable by people that are within 150 feet (or so) of you at that specific time. When you are done taking photos with your friends you have a link to an album with everyone's photos. There is no friending, no following, no sign up. Personally I think the ability to instantly share photos with with your peers around you is genius.

    btw do you have a link to the album that you can share with us?

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  2. Also here is another good take on Color at a Bachelor Party weekend. http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/07/a-colorful-weekend/

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