Color’s First Fifteen Hours: It’s Revolutionary! It’s Pointless! It’s Brilliant! It’s Terrible!

By  |  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:

  • Technologizer is really about stuff, not the business machinations behind the stuff;
  • I’m not an expert on venture capital and therefore can’t write very intelligently about it;
  • Even though I’m not an expert on venture capital, I do know that there’s no reliable link between the amount of money a company is able to raise and the quality of its idea and its chance at success. (Kozmo.com, a truly stupid idea for a company, raised $250 million before imploding.) The only way anyone will know for sure whether investing $41 million in Color is an act of genius or a massive blunder is when it changes the world, or fails to do so.

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:

  • I’m really glad I instinctively shy away from forming or expressing definitive opinions based on concepts and demos and will redouble my efforts to so;
  • I called Color’s interface “slick and distinctive” and noted that it didn’t use many labels or words. I wish I’d followed up by saying something like “Of course, that might prove to be confusing…”‘;
  • There’s something to be said for launching products with no hype whatsoever, especially ones which are dependent on users understanding and loving them–nobody found that Twitter and Facebook didn’t live up to the initial hoopla, because there was no initial hoopla;
  • If people who have written about Color can be divided into those who think it’s a hollow gimmick and those who think there’s a big idea in there somewhere, I’m still in the latter camp.

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.

 
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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Ed Oswald Says:

    I'll tell you why the $41 million VC became an issue: jealousy. A lot of that whole mess was started by blogs and people (i.e. Robert Scoble, although I really do respect him and agree with him 95% of the time), who are close to or represent companies that could have used funding like that.

    A helluva lot of it seemed just vitriolic to me.

  2. Atle Iversen Says:

    Too bad you can't use it on a plane, because then everybody could take pictures of all the other passengers, and they could all share the pictures with all the other passengers, and ….uhhmmm…wait, what was this for, again ?

    At least you can share nude pictures with all your neighbours in your apartment block, or you can share all your pictures at the concert with all the other people at the concert who ALSO shares all their pictures at the concert…..

    Kidding aside, when someone invests $41 million, you should absolutely cover it; but I guess most people really don't understand what the investors have seen that we haven't ?!

    Many people are probably irritated as $41 million could help a *lot* of small startups with *other* ideas than picture sharing get off the ground…at least we don't have to worry about "Big Brother" from governments anymore, as *everybody* will be taking picture of everyone all the time..if they add a short tweet then we'll have perfect surveillance of everyone everywhere :-)

    My company also sent out a press release yesterday, but I do understand that a $41 million, fun picture-sharing app gets priority over a "boring" application that tries to help you get your work done :-)

  3. davezatz Says:

    41 million seems like an oversized amount for an app/service. But if we're here to read about the technology, you can easily skip the business elements. No right or wrong, if it interests you it interests us.

    Regarding Color itself, I can't figure out how to use. Worse, I can't figure out why I'd want to. *delete*

  4. Frankie Says:

    What inspired this rant? It's interesting to hear you explain yourself here, but I'm still scratching my head why you spent the time explaining yourself. Seems odd, given there are more interesting things in tech to write about.

    Can you dedicate another post to the reaction to the reaction of Color?

    Time to move on.

  5. Harry McCracken Says:

    There’s only one reason I ever write about anything on Technologizer: I found it interesting, and thought a critical mass of other folks might, too.

  6. Michael Olsen Says:

    Smug. They come across as smug, which seems pretty ballsy for a company that released a really buggy app that a lot of people are having a hard time figuring out how to use. I still don't know what those icons mean and what they do. If you are going to be smug like Apple then you better deliver a polished product.

  7. Antoine A. Says:

    This 41 million figure is completely insane. We developed a somewhat similar app in a month with 2 developers. I recommend you check out the Umanity app ( http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/umanity/id41948446… )

    -By opposition to Color, you can select any location in the world
    -The app can change the face of media reporting around the globe, in emergency areas such as Japan or the Middle East.
    -Much, much better UI than Color
    -Photos are also viewable on the web at http://umanity.in (you can add a location after that, such as http://umanity.in/montreal )

    Cheers!

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  9. ISIS Cyprus Says:

    I want to try this app! Where can I possibly download it? I tried downloading it at ISIS Cyprus but it cannot be completely downloaded.