By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm
Back in November, entrepreneur Bill Nguyen–the founder of Lala and other companies–bought himself a cool domain name: Color.com. Now his new startup is announcing a cool free app to go with it: Color, a photo- and video-sharing program for iPhone and Android handsets. It should be available for both platforms tonight.
While I’ve met with the company, received a demo, and played with the app a bit, I haven’t had extensive hands-on time with the service. So this isn’t a review. But I’ve seen enough to know that Color is a fresh take on the seemingly well-trodden concept of photo/video sharing; it’s nothing at all like Flickr or Instagram or Path or other services you might be using. And if it lives up to its potential it could be a big hit.
Like umpteen other apps, Color lets you snap and share photos and videos. But instead of sharing them with people you specify, it shares them with people near you–and if those people are using the Color app to capture stuff, you can see it, too. It all happens in real time in one shared stream, without anyone involved having to do anything except shoot photos. And it creates a group-created visual record of events large (like a concert or a conference) and small (a birthday party or a dinner out).
Color’s creators say they use a bunch of technologies to determine proximity–not jus GPS, but also motion, audio, and other hints. They say that their software can detect hints like a bunch of people all aiming their phones in one direction, which might be a clue that they’re taking pictures of a performer at a concert.
The app’s user interface is slick and distinctive: It’s done mostly by letting you swipe your way through grids of thumbnail photos. There’s very little in the way of labels or other wordage. There are also no ads; eventually, though, the company plans to monetize its creation by integrating local marketing messages in ways yet to be determined. (Possible example: If you’re snapping photos at a restaurant, the eatery might be able to show you pictures of the dishes your pals ate on a previous visit.)
Once you start to browse through nearby photos and videos, you can also navigate to ones taken by a particular person, and Color keeps a gallery of folks whose photos you’ve looked at so you can see other content they’ve captured. You can use this to check in on buddies and relatives to see what they’ve been up to–as long as they take photos, you’ll see them, and can browse backwards through a timeline of everything they’ve shot.
How do you know that other users aren’t stalking you, peeking at photos of your personal activities without your knowledge? Well, they might be doing just that: The company stresses that every snapshot posted on Color is public and should be treated as such. But Color relationships also degrade over time unless you remain in contact: If you attend a concert that a stranger is at, then never interact with that person’s photos again, he or she will disappear from your Color experience. The company refers to this as “elastic” networking, and it’s a certainly a different sort of social networking than the well-defined worlds of Facebook and Twitter and Flickr.
Nguyen’s best-known previous venture, Lala, was an excellent music service that was bought and shuttered by Apple. His new venture has a shot at being as interesting and innovative as Lala was, and I hope it sticks around a whole lot longer.
Here are a couple of images of the Color app:
And here’s Color’s own demo, which gives a better idea of what it’s all about than still images can: