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What's the Point of Color?

The minds behind Lala, the ingenious online music service that Apple bought and immediately shut down, just launched their newest project  tonight: Color.

Color is a photo-sharing app for iOS (iTunes link) and Android with $41 million in backing from major venture capital firms. Forbes calls it “a new photo app that could change the way you interact with people,” but leaving aside the question why an app like this needs $41 million, my main problem with the service is that I can’t quite figure out why I would want to use it.

What Color Does

color_screensHere is what Colors does: Unlike apps like Instagram, picplz or Path, every picture you take is public and there is no option to make it private. More importantly, the app groups together both the photos that were taken at the same location and the people that took them. To do this, the service uses some admittedly smart algorithms that look at where your phone was pointing, the ambient noise around you and other factors to determine that these pictures were indeed taken in the same place. The service then organizes you into an “elastic” social network with all the people around you who took picture at the same place. It basically creates the social network for you as you use the app (and dissolves your “friendships” automatically if you don’t take pictures close to each other for a while).

Why Would You Want to Use It?

Overall, this sounds like a smart idea, but I have a hard time imagining why I would want to use this app. If I’m already in a certain place – say a tourist sight – I don’t need to see the pictures that others took there. I’m already there to see things myself after all.

Maybe this will be useful in a restaurant, where you can then see a dish before you order it, but that assumes that there are actually enough people out there who would want to use the app. Even today, if you are outside of the tech bubble, you can still find plenty of places where nobody has ever checked in on Foursquare.

take-photos-togetherSupposedly, grouping these pictures will help you meet new people and make new friends. I just have a hard time imagining this in the real world where you probably don’t want to talk to a stranger just because he/she frequented the same restaurant one night or went to the same concert.

As Tom Foremski notes in his piece about the app, “I say hello to my neighbors but that’s about the most interaction I want with them. […] If I wanted to get to know my neighbors better I would try to make friends with them, but I don’t and they don’t.” I think that’s the social problem Color faces and one that I don’t think it is one that can be easily overcome.

Sadly, the app also itself does little to explain what it actually does, which will likely turn first-time users away rather quickly. There are no help menus and the only indication of what the app does is the opening screen which tells you to “take photos together.” The app’s homepage on the Web also does little to explain its functionality (“Simultaneously use multiple iPhones and Androids to capture photos, videos, and conversations into a group album. There’s no attaching, uploading, or friending to do. “).

Maybe I’m missing something important here – or the huge hype around the app is just making me grumpy – but while I admire the idea behind Color, I just don’t see the point of it.

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