Monday, March 28, 2011

Color Me Doubtful.

There’s a new mobile picture-sharing app that’s making quite a buzz in the tech industry, and it’s called Color. Yes, that’s right, the word you’ve been using since you were old enough to grip and eat a crayon.

In the wave of Hipstamatic, Instagram and other photo-sharing apps, Color intends to create and promote a photo community in which all users within a 150 foot radius who are taking pictures with the program share images. The end result is a collection of photos stored on your phone taken by other people, mixed in with your own. Let’s describe two possible real-life situations here:

Scenario 1: You’re at an art show. Two hundred people are there. Approximately 5% of the patrons are using Color to document the occasion, including yourself. When you go home, you’ve got a collection of all the pictures taken by yourself and nine other people.

Scenario 2: You’re at a concert. This is a big show, and there are 7,000 people in attendance. You are within 150 feet of approximately 1000 people, of which 5% are using the app to document the occasion. Again, you leave with photos taken by yourself and 49 other people.

Sounds kinda neat, right? Well, it’s a mostly original idea, for sure. We’ve seen these kind of location-oriented social tools in products like Foursquare, where significant public adoption has led to its usefulness. At that concert, there might be fifty to a hundred people “checked in.”

Color will have to overcome this social adoption hurdle to become useful, otherwise you’ll be broadcasting your pictures to no one. The company and its investors understand this, which is probably why $41 million has been dumped into this nu-tech concept. A massive campaign to increase public awareness may be the only way that this takes off.

However, there are a couple major issues here that spell F-A-D.

First, the 150-foot radius intends to stop you from gathering tons of photos that weren’t taken anywhere near you. Imagine being at the Georgia Aquarium and ending up with pictures of the World of Coca-Cola next door. What the developers intend is a collection of photos with a “bug-eye view” – angles you didn’t think of, art pieces you missed, “decisive moments” that could only have been captured by one camera at one moment.

The real end result: Tons of duplicates of photos. Concerts might be the worst, with an end result of 1,000 blurry pictures of the stage or flash lighting up the backs of the heads of the closest four rows. You end up with photos of things that were always within 150 feet of you. Things you likely photographed yourself.

Additionally, the developers envision a society in which lots of happy hipsters hop about with their mobile phones taking Cool Pics. However, as mentioned before, widespread adoption is the key to the success of a tool like this, hence the massive investment into a free app.

The real end result: If you’re not around anyone else using the app, two things will occur: You will not receive anyone else’s pictures, and no one will receive yours. You took a bunch of pictures with this program for nothing. Foursquare junkies may already be familiar with this lonely-user concept: Think about how many times you check in to a location where no one else is, and yet you do it anyway. A check-in program like this requires minor commitment; conversely, a photo-based app requires the user to further manipulate their phone and to be in a relatively picture-worthy setting. These issues mean that this app will probably only be useful at large events or gatherings.

Finally--and this is a big problem for the investors--the developers have chosen a name with an extremely high web presence, on the order of 2.5 billion Google search results. Sure, the company’s incredible SEO got their main page into the top ten results, but when you say “Foursquare” out loud, people don’t think of the children’s game, they think of the mobile app. I doubt “Color” will overtake the concept of reflected light in various frequencies for widespread understanding. However, I would like to take this opportunity to praise the company for not going with Colr.

Speaking of those investors, the company has already racked up a $41 million bill without even launching beyond beta. I wouldn’t be surprised if a large chunk of that money secured the eponymous .com domain name to increase search engine ranking. So a free app, with nary a method for income, returning a profit? I remain doubtful.

Even worse, that 5% use rate mentioned earlier is pretty generous. I’d bet that the actual user rate will be far, far below this. This app is not a game-changer, it's a money-loser; at best, it’s a fun tool for picture sharing.

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