I downloaded Color for my iPhone this morning. At first I didn’t “get it”. Snap photos, first of myself, then of random things and people. If you’re the only one on Color it worse than sucks – it doesn’t actually make any sense.
After walking around the office for a few minutes, snapping more photos and announcing that I was on “color” a few others downloaded the app and started taking pictures. BAM! Its obvious now. The automagical sharing, seeing, and participating begins.
Then the creepiness factor set in.
You have little control over what connections are made, shared, and participated on. Anyone can get the app; anyone can post photos – likely of anything; and you can interact or just lurk.
I put the app away and started the real work of the day.
At lunch I walked down Pearl St. Mall here in Boulder. Nice, sunny and decently warm day. Waiting in line at Salvaggios Deli I opened up Color again and immediately started seeing pictures that other Color users nearby were taking, posting, and sharing. Oliver, Jim, Nicole – none of whom I know, or saw for that matter. But there their photos were, for me and everyone else on Color to check out.
As I walked back to the office, it sort of struck me that no way would such a group of smart VCs and seasoned entrepreneurs create just a creepy, stalker-esque photo sharing app. There was more too it. They raised a pile of cash ($41M) in first round capital. What occurred to me is that the app is really just a test, or a lure. A hook to get people on the system – a data collection, mining, and segmentation system.
When you take a picture or video, Color gathers a variety of information. It collects sound levels, Bluetooth readings, light readings, antenna strength, the time - even the direction you're pointing your phone - and more and uses it all to determine your proximity to other users.
…. Color offers a way to determine location and proximity in such a non-battery draining, accurate manner that an impromptu and "elastic" social graph can be created from the data, without once ever having to purposefully check in.
In essence the app is an advanced data collection mechanism. Beyond the app, the company seems to be driving at the notion of movement (socially, physically, and spatially) of people. That’s pretty cool. Still a bit creepy, but really freekin’ cool. I’m not sure I’m completely OK with the idea of having a Orwellian tracking monitor voluntarily placed in my pocket by me. But I do like the idea that Color is driving at and I think this may in fact lead to some really interesting innovations down the road.