Color: why it’s interesting and why it won’t be “the next Twitter”.

Color invites you to “creates new, dynamic social networks … wherever you go”. It’s getting a lot of attention at the moment, largely because of $41M VC funding. It’s even being hailed as having ‘a very good chance of becoming a large scale success like Twitter‘.

In case you have not yet heard of Color, here’s how Caroline McCarthy describes it for CNET

In Color, photos taken through the app are shared through proximity, something which amasses a list of your contacts through machine learning; in effect, you’ll be able to see all photos around you that were taken with Color. You’ll be able to see the Color photos of the guy sitting two tables away from you at Starbucks, but when he finishes his caramel macchiato and leaves the coffee shop, you can’t see them anymore. But if you spend a lot of time in proximity to someone–an office-mate, for example–that person’s photos will gradually begin to stay in your contacts list for longer.

Someone asked me this week whether I thought it really would be ‘the next Twitter’. I found it hard to say at first, because my first experience with the app had been so awful that I had to go back and try it again to see what I’d missed. It really is a rather hard app to pick up (and has been heavily slated in the App store reviews, often for being hard to understand) but it’s not hard to see that the idea of physical spaces having an invisible cloud of history and shared photos has potential; being able to see other angles you missed, knowing your friend was here yesterday, … you can imagine lots of fun stuff emerging from an experiment like this.

But no, I don’t think it’s going to be “the next Twitter”. Not at all.

Being based on physical proximity makes for a pretty tough first experience. Unless you happen to install and try it while you’re at a big event with at least a couple of other people using it, you’re left with a pretty unsatisfying starting point. Any app that requires you to be in the same place as other people using the same app at the same time is going to have a difficult bootstrap problem.

Most importantly though, Twitter is a platform with an open API allowing other apps to be built on top of it. Want to write your own Twitter client? Want to integrate Twitter into another app? Want to print out tweets that contain the word ‘snow’? Easy. Not so with Color. Want to make a site showing the most recent Color pictures taken in a particular place? You can’t. Unless you’re the Telegraph and you want to do a joint PR thing around the royal wedding (the sanity of which also raised some eyebrows).

That’s not to say that the situation won’t change. Instagram started closed and opened up an API after a few months. That move made it easier for people to make all sorts of really cool apps like Extragram, GramFrame, Instagrid, Instaprint, Instac.at and many more.

In fact, the most common use I’ve seen of Color so far has been that people will sometimes post a direct link to a picture to Twitter or Facebook. While that’s a useful feature (and in theory leads to more people discovering Color) it does mean that the whole local proximity and physical social discovery aspect of Color becomes optional; people continue to rely on those two tools to maintain their contact networks.

I think in its current incarnation Color is more of a photo sharing service, like Twitpic or Yfrog, with some additional features which might rarely get used. If they open up and offer an API (like Instagram did) they could become a much more interesting thing altogether, but only if it can get – and keep – users. Although I like its innovative approach, I think it’s going to be very tough for this app to become anything like mainstream.

I’ll give Color another chance, but I think I’ll also be looking out for the next next big thing.

Cross-posted to the W+K London blog.

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