Understanding Color a little better

It’s a shame that the US$41-million funding of Color Labs has dominated the news about Color, a radically different type of mobile app, because that’s what’s interesting.

Color shares photos with everyone around you that has the app on their iPhone or Android device. There are no privacy settings and you don’t need to “friend” or “follow” anyone — it automatically creates an ad hoc social network within 50 yards of your location.

It’s a fascinating concept and it will be interesting to see just how much people want to connect with strangers, where often the only thing they have in common is that they are in the same location.

There are existing social conventions in place because people don’t want to interact with each other, especially in cities and among apartment dwellers. Do I want my next door neighbour in my apartment building looking at my pictures?

No, otherwise I would have knocked on his door and shown them to him, after all, he’s right there.

I say hello to my neighbours but that’s about the most interaction I want with them. And that’s the way they feel about me.

I predict Color will have to modify its settings and offer exclusion zones based on your GPS location, such as your apartment building, your work place, your parent’s place.

If I wanted to get to know my neighbours better I would try to make friends with them, but I don’t and they don’t. Color isn’t solving any problem here.

People walking along city streets try to ignore each other. Do they secretly wish they could interact with each other through an application such as Color?

In other situations I can see how Color would be fun to use, such as at a concert where you could view the event from different angles.

And it could be a great way for singles to break the ice with each other in clubs and bars.

You could maybe find a decent restaurant by walking by and seeing if any food photos had been taken by Color users — a good sign.

And I’m sure there will be many other interesting uses and experiences enabled by Color.

The most interesting aspect of this application is that it is totally unique and likely to usher in a whole new genre of proximity-based apps.

How will people use it?

Color Labs doesn’t know — it did no user studies, no focus groups, beyond letting 30 staff and family members use it. Which is very bold.

When you download Color there isn’t much to do, there’s likely no other Color users around you so the app is blank and useless. But fire it up in a club or a party and then things get interesting — which is what I did on Thursday evening.

I popped into “Twestival”, a charity event in North Beach. There was only two other Color users there, which was surprising given that this was a tech crowd and very much aware of the huge amount of publicity Color has had this week.

Later that evening I stopped into the launch party for Podio, a Danish startup. There were about 10 Color users there, again a very small number considering there were hundreds of digerati there.

But soon there were more of us especially since Stowe Boyd and myself persuaded others around us to download it and check it out.

It was easy to download it on the iPhone but a friend using an Android phone was having problems finding and downloading the app and she finally gave up.

First impressions:

  • The interface takes some getting used to, it’s a bit confusing but manageable.
  • It’s slow. It takes a while to take a photo and then decide if you want to post it or retake it. You can’t whip it out to take a photo of something that’s happening quickly — you’ll miss it completely by the time it’s loaded, and ready to shoot and share.
  • It’s fun to see other people’s pictures and the messaging component is intriguing and deserves more exploration.
  • Is it more than a novelty? It’s too early to tell, I’m looking forward to using it more.
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