Color, the new geo-social-media-sharing app is being underrated by all the haters. I’m all for some good hilarious snark like the much lauded review of the app on iTunes. But we’re all forgetting that just because something does happen to contain all of the hottest trends and social elements doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have some really interesting stuff going on.
The most recent TWiT had a pretty even-keeled discussion of Color by Leo Laporte, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Xeni Jardin and Baratunde Thurston that managed not to totally pan the app, but couldn’t foresee many applicable use cases. Kirkpatrick brought up the idea of music festivals as somewhere it might become useful, and all could agree that nobody knew what the hell Twitter would be good for either when it first hit, and also that there’s a high likelihood that Color is going to have a serious data mining aspect that leads to revenue tucked somewhere into its back end in order to take advantage of the data all the prophesied users are going to be pumping into it.
Here’s the thing – I don’t think it’s all that hard to see the potential utility of this app. A quick preface: I don’t necessarily think it’s going to take off and become the next hot thing – who knows? However, I do see why it could be thought to be worth so much by investors who believe that the users will come. Color essentially represents the next step in realtime content generation.
Twitter = what I’m doing
Foursquare = where I am
Color = what I see
- Location, Cameras and Gyroscopes always on
- Density of usage increase over time
- Addition of meshing technologies (like Photosynth)
- Added value of video
- Value as realtime feeds
- Distributed CCTV for the world
1. Location, Cameras and Gyroscopes always on
Color may be just a little bit ahead of its time – but not by much – for two reasons: GPS and battery life. Color doesn’t only rely on GPS – it analyzes lots of other metadata from the photos loaded into it, but GPS is a part of its location awareness. My Droid has GPS and it works great, but it drains my battery so I keep it disabled most of the time. This is the kind of thing that makes using Color a bit of a pain in the ass. I have to stop to enable GPS before taking a picture in Color, and who wants to do that? However, as battery life continues to improve for mobile devices, and gyroscope and GPS penetration increases throughout smart phones and dumb phones alike, we will find ourselves in a position where all photos taken by mobile devices (or network enabled cameras for that matter) will contain metadata about not only their GPS location, but also gyroscopic position that would be able to indicate in which direction the camera was pointing, and essentially of what location the picture is being taken.
This is powerful stuff. It’s a transition from a realtime feed of what people are saying and where they are saying it to a realtime catalog of what we see – what we’re looking at.
2. Density of usage increase over time
As adoption of mobile devices increases, and as usage of these mobile devices continues to increase, the density of users and usage of this app could increase significantly in the near future. For the time being it will only truly function in denser areas of population with relatively good portions of the population that qualify as early adopters – Silicon Valley, NYC, ephemeral pockets like cons or festivals, and a few other pockets here and there. But consider the ridiculous rates of iPad adoption that have been occurring, and that all of these users – many of whom may not have previously been interested in owning a smartphone – are now indoctrinated into using devices like these, and are even more likely to pick one up in their next phone contract cycle. This adoption is only going to continue to increase over the near term.
3. Addition of meshing technologies (like Photosynth)
There have already been a lot of neat applications for automated image meshing technologies like Microsoft’s Photosynth, but this technology has a whole new appeal when it gets paired with a service that is aggregating volumes of images based on location and gyroscopic metadata. With enough processing power meshed panoramics of scenes could be generated in near-realtime to create eye-witness accounts of events in a way that has been impossible up until this point. Color is a service that is designed to create that link between the potential of such technologies and the problem of how to aggregate the right content to make it possible.
4. Added value of video
But we haven’t even mentioned video yet! It’s one thing to imagine that with enough content from enough cameras that a sort of rudimentary stop motion video of a scene could be generated. And beyond that there’s potential for the same effect of time-sequencing on a three dimensional space rather than traditional video. But when you consider that the concept of Color works for video as well there are other interesting options to consider. A technology like Photosynth that could be applied to video rather than still imagery could potentially create something near to realtime crowdsourced video of a live scene. The implementation of 4G networks like LTE are going to make this kind of upload capabilities a reality, even for HD quality video. People have been talking for years about wanting to watch sports like soccer or the NFL with the ability to control the viewing angle, but with enough users Color could accomplish something similar via crowdsourcing for live events, including breaking news.
5. Value to realtime news feeds
It’s not just about events where someone is on stage and everyone in the crowd knows where to point their devices. This is also about breaking news situations and phenomena that occur randomly. Thinking of the recent spate of revolutions in the Middle East should give us some clue of the potential – imagine being able to navigate through a near realtime meshed or mosaic video journal within a square full of protestors.
Twitter and the blogosphere have effectively usurped the text newscycle, and YouTube and live streaming platforms like JustinTV and Ustream are new outlets for interesting video, but they still have to be distributed through more social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. It seems possible that color is looking to be the social distribution platform for live images and videos that up to this time have had to ride on the other social networks for distribution. Of course there’s no reason it still couldn’t piggy back on those platforms, the way that YouTube does on Twitter and Facebook, but there is value to being dedicated to specific media.
6. Distributed CCTV for the world
Yes – there is a lot of work to be done before the technology can live up to some of the ideas I’ve put forward, and yes there is a lot of adoption of technology that must occur as well, but these things are not at all out of the realm of possibility. The speed of innovation only continues to increase, and I think it’s entirely possible that Color is trying to plant a stake in the ground early on what it thinks is bound to be a much larger opportunity around mobile photos and video. Coming out of the gate with these aspirations would look insane to anyone but investors with matching vision, so it makes sense to open the doors with something simpler that can be understood – like geo-specific photo albums. I think that color is coming out of the gates with the simplest possible version of itself that is usable based on today’s smartphone penetration and network and technology capabilities.
The only question left is about how far the team from Color will really be able to take this. Will Color one day be able to serve as a CCTV service for the world, covering points of interest anywhere on the globe with a sufficient network connection and aggregating content from a crowd full of sources into a comprehensive feed and archive of visual content? Let’s watch and find out. Maybe someday soon you’ll be following a link to Color yourself in.