By Harry McCracken | Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 8:27 pm
I don’t like writing about stuff I haven’t tried. Plenty of products that look swell in demos to tech journalists don’t work very well. Sometimes, in fact, they don’t work at all. So I sometimes pass on covering new gadgets, apps, and services until I can spend time with them–even as other sites are expressing opinions based largely on having the items in question described to them in glowing terms by tech execs.
Yesterday, however, I wrote about Color, a new smartphone app that automatically shares photos and videos with people near you. I thought it was a nifty idea. It comes from a company cofounded by Bill Nguyen, whose previous startup Lala was definitely a nifty idea. And I did get to fool around a bit with the app during a demonstration in a real-word setting–a restaurant, which is the sort of place that Color is supposed to be fun and useful. That’s a major step beyond just having it explained via PowerPoint.
The meeting I had with Color included several staffers–Bill Nguyen wasn’t one of them, but Peter Pham, the startup’s president and another guy with an impressive background, was. They said that the company was going to be a big deal and that the product was a breakthrough, as startup founders doing demos are wont to do. They also mentioned that the company had raised $41 million in funding, which is a lot of dough for a phone app.
Besides briefing folks like me, the company issued a press release that wasn’t shy about raising expectations–actually, it used the word “miraculous” to describe the app, a term even Steve Jobs might think twice about throwing around.
When Color’s news broke yesterday, some of the coverage was giddy:
But not all of it–some said the app’s defining notion of looking at photos of strangers is creepy:
And the initial ratings on reviews on the App Store are largely cranky, for multiple reasons: They say the app is confusing, crashy, and unappealing:
At some point, as TechCrunch’s MG Siegler notes, Color coverage turned into Color backlash–against the app and especially against the fact that $41 million had been invested in it. Now the company is responding to the flack and saying a better version is in the works.
All of which left me pondering Color and the early coverage of it–especially my coverage. Should I have abstained from expressing any opinions whatsoever until I could use the app extensively? Did I err by not even mentioning the 41 million bucks? Did the fact that I didn’t find the concept icky reveal that I didn’t get it?
You can tell me what you think. But I’m relieved that I was smart enough to be a bit guarded: I said right away that I wasn’t reviewing the app, and hedged my bets by using if and could in my assessment: “if it lives up to its potential it could be a big hit.”
I didn’t mention the $41 million in my first post, for several reasons:
For the record, anyone who’s ever talked to Bill Nguyen knows that he’s very, very good at inducing infectious excitement. I met with him several times about Lala, and always came away jazzed about the company, whether we were discussing the several early incarnations of the service that turned out to be dead ends or the one which was pretty wonderful while it lasted. I’m sure Nguyen-induced infectious enthusiasm–which is not the same thing as irrational exuberance–played a part in Color’s bankroll and some of the breathless early stories. And it may have, um, colored my take, even though I spoke with his colleagues rather than the guy himself.
I didn’t dwell on the idea that Color might be creepy in my first post–I did briefly bring up the notion of it being used for stalking–because…well, because it doesn’t strike me as creepy. It struck me as a neat idea, if it’s well done. And it still does. (I haven’t tried the app for an extended period yet, mostly because I’m on the road at the moment–in fact, I’m writing this on airplane.)
A few final thoughts on all this:
And if you’ve got any opinions to share–about Color, about Color coverage, about the proper way to write about new products–I’d love to hear them.