Color, the photo-sharing social app that took the tech industry by storm when it announced $41 million in prelaunch funding shortly after SXSW in March, is almost complete with its pivot. As announced at Facebook's developer conference in September, Color has attached itself to the social network and wants to fundamentally change the notion of the status update. Augmented are the notions of the "elastic" implicit social graph and many vestiges of what Color was when it originally launched.
Color has now launched in private beta around the concept of visual Facebook status updates, called "visits." We explore the new color and its evolution below.
Visits: The Visual Status Update
Here is what Color has become: a means of posting 30-second soundless status update videos to Facebook. Color does not like to refer to these status updates as video but for lack of a better word on how to describe moving pictures in the digital age, that is what it is. The way Color wants to think of it is instead of using words to update for Facebook status, you will use these visits to show what is around you. A live broadcast to Facebook with the option of adding a caption. It is not a two-way communications portal or a way to do long form live video from a mobile device, like Qik. It is fairly simple, just a 30-second visual feed of your surroundings.
Color still attaches itself to location. On Android devices the app will prompt users to turn on GPS so the app can work more efficiently. On iOS it will prompt to make sure that location services are turned on. Once launched and attached to Facebook, Color will prompt users to post a photo or a visit. That will then pop up in the Facebook newsfeed as "Live From (Location)." It seems that a lot of the back-end systems for Color are alive and well, what CEO Bill Nguyen described as Color being a "research and data company" when ReadWriteWeb had an in-depth interview with him shortly after the funding announcement. If Color is not careful it is going to step in some of Facebook's privacy controversies, especially around a sensitive issue like location.
Color will also be integrated into Facebook's Timeline feature, whenever that happens to launch (now more than two months overdue). Within the app itself, there is a feed of all your friends' pictures that have been recently posted to their walls. Not just friends' visits, all recent photo activity. There is also a personal timeline of all your activity, from visits you made to pictures you have posted to pictures that you have been tagged in.
Color uses an aggressive push notifications system as well, one that we turned off on both Android and iOS (on an iPad 2) about two minutes after installing the app. The notification sounds like a doorbell and comes whenever a person hosts a live visit.
Cold Start, Lean Startup & Network Effects
One of the problems that Color had when it first launched was the "cold start" problem. It did not have the network effect (attract more users which in turn further develop the platform which attracts more users) from the beginning and was more or less just another app to most users. One that they did not understand. The fact that it had a terrible and confusing user interface did not help Color's cause.
Color has lost two of its three super star
founders leaders since it launched. In July, ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote about how it was more or less a failure of the Lean Startup philosophy and CEO Bill Nguyen has been referred to as a "the boy in the bubble" that is really good at making money for venture capitalists.
Color will eventually tie itself to Facebook's open social graph, which the company said was going to happen later this month. So, the elastic, implicit social graph has been completely abandoned.
Update 10:10 p.m. EST Dec. 1, 2012:
There was a bit of miscommunication with Color as to the nature of the elastic graph. We asked during our preview if the Color was going to still have the "implicit" graph. At the time, Color said no. What they meant was that this preview version would not have the implicit (or "elastic") graph but that when Color comes back out of private beta, the implicit data connections would return. We will be dutiful in explaining how that process works when Color launches to the public once again. Color also noted that while it will be coming out of private beta soon, it cannot speak for Facebook as to when the open graph will be made available to the public. We also noted above that two of the three super star "leaders" (not founders) had left the company.
Facebook creates implicit data but it uses it more for its own purposes. Color will do that as well, though in a naturally different way now that it is tied to the explicit social graph of Facebook, augmenting original idea of implicit data (having similar data points to a person in a similar location taking similar pictures). Attaching Color to Facebook will certainly help with the cold start problem but some people may not see the visit as anything fundamentally different from the fairly simple act of uploading a video taken with a smartphone camera to Facebook.
Does Color have a chance? With funding in the bank, it can certainly pivot again if it needs to (if it has talent left at that point). Let us know what you think about the fundamental nature of the visit in the comments. The video that is not a video but rather a real-time broadcast of your surroundings posted to Facebook.