I read with interest about Color, a new social photo app that was much in the news today. The main angle of coverage was the size of the pre-revenue company’s funding – $41 million from Sequoia and Bain. Hell, the company isn’t just pre-revenue, it’s pre-product….at least for now. Tomorrow the actual product launches.
If it works as advertised, it may well be the first truly execution of augmented reality that truly scales.
I for one hope it works.
The service’s founder, Bill Nguyen, is the real deal. He has a particular ability to see around corners, and is a veteran of more than half a dozen startups. So why am I fired up about Color’s service? Because I think it bridges an important gap in how we use the web today. And please know that my definition of “the web” is in no way limited to “PC based HTML”. When I say web, I mean the digital platform through which we leverage our lives.
OK, now that we’ve clarified that, what does Color actually *do*? Well, let me explain it as best I can, based on a great piece here by Bruce Upbin (OK and this piece and this one too).
In short, Colors combines the public social graph and instant sharing of Twitter with the “capture the moment” feel of an Instagram or Path. But the real twist is in the service’s approach to location. To my mind, Colors has the opportunity to be the first breakout application fueled by the concept of “augmented reality.”
Now, let me back up and remind readers of my oft-repeated 2010 maxim: Location is the most important signal to erupt from the Internet since search.
OK, that said, what Colors does is offer up a visual public timeline of any given location, in real time. Every single image captured at any given location is instantly “placed” at that location, forever, and is served up as an artifact of that location to anyone using the Colors application.
Put your brain to that idea for a second, and you realize this is one of those ideas that is both A/ Ridiculously huge and B/ Ridiculously obvious in retrospect. And pretty much every idea that passes those two tests only has to pass a third to Be Really Big. That third test? Execution.
Wait Battelle, you may be saying. What are you on about? I’m not getting it?!
In short, if Color is used by a statistically significant percentage of folks, nearly every location that matters on earth will soon be draped in an ever-growing tapestry of visual cloth, one that no doubt will also garner commentary, narrative structure, social graph meaning, and plasticity of interpretation. Imagine if Color – and the fundaments which allow its existence – had existed for the past 100 years. Imagine what Color might have revealed during the Kennedy assassination, or the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, or hell, the Rodney King beating?
But that’s just the stuff that’s important to us all. What Color really augurs is the ability to understand our shared sense of place over time – and that alone is mind-bendingly powerful. Back in 2008 I was struck with a similar concept, which at FM we turned into Crowdfire – a fleeting, early antecedent to the Color concept focused on music and festivals.
To me the key here is plasticity. By that I mean the ability to bend the concept of “social graph” beyond the inflexible “one ring to rule them all” model of Facebook to a more nuanced set of people you might care about in the context of place or moment. I love these kinds of steps forward, because it’s just so damn clear we need them.
Trust me on this. If Colors fails, it will be due to execution, and someone else will get it right. Because the world wants and needs this, and the time is now. (By the way, I’m not encouraged by the website, which focuses on group sharing and such. I think the service is way bigger than that. But I guess you have to start somewhere…)
Oh, and note to Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare: If you don’t get this feature into your service, pronto, you will more likely than not be rueing the day Color launched.