March 24, 2011

Wow that’s hot. Social networking, mobile, photo sharing. $41M raised before launch. Testing conventions, with damn good timing. But will this color fade to grey?

Mobile social software application Color launched today. With more pre-launch funding by Sequoia et. al. than Flickr was bought for it is something to watch. Smart and accomplished team, which matters more than anything at this stage. Of course it screams bubble when we’ve all been trained to look for the pop. But there is a lot more to it.

That round — obviously $41M for what someone could build for less than $1, minus the domain names, raises more than eyebrows. Sequoia didn’t find themselves with a bad card in the the last minutes of a bingo game. They had a great team, hot space and different angle of attack. Get ready to spend a lot of time talking about the round which puts the startup behind it.

That hype — perfect. That round. The team and investors. The trends from mobility to social to the end of privacy. Positioning that gap left open by industry darlings. When you’ve got time, money and enough of a controversial product to do a launch like this its pretty solid. You think Zuck questions our notions privacy? Not as public proof point step one. By positing the new¬†sousveillant public, there is an endless stream of PR ready stories ready for them so long as enough people opt in.

That initial user experience — funny, if you just use the app for the first time you don’t realize what you are sharing is public. You take a picture of yourself and upload it. If you have luck or patience, you find others doing other stupid or delightful shit near you. Whoever the fuck they are. And if you are alone at home like most losers, you just took a picture of something somebody wants to steal if they are lucky enough to be taking a picture of the house they are casing.

That second hand experience — first experiences with products aren’t what they used to be. You used to find something while home in your underware clicking beyond your comfort area. And then follow paths designers well versed in HCI could anticipate. But now the interaction that precedes and in many cases is included in the app’s initial interaction is social. Color needs this. And in fact prompts it. It adapts to the environment first before requiring the environment adapts to it. Like social should.

That low threshold — the core user experience they have found is the lowest threshold of participation. The only contribution you do is take snapshots of a moment in time with one click. From there forms a graph of moments of movement that yields active discovery. Don’t under-estimate finding something effortless for those who get past comforts, close to immeadiate voyeuristic rewards, and contrails of memories.

That movement — I first installed the app within the hour it launched while on the train and then went to meet some colleagues in Palo Alto. Along the way of all things my snapshots got grouped with Color’s launch party, so apparently they are there somewhere and are people doing things. Seems appropriate. But the point is an experience while in motion with minutea until and if there is critical mass with other people participating. There aren’t hooks to easily have your friends participate with you yet. But you could see how SXSW could have been different with it. Not as a nightmare for those with photographic memory. But you could also see how if you were there and anti-social it would give you something to do. The app is best used in motion while others are.

The memory — what Color keeps isn’t what it shares. Lots of metadata about context. Lots of things with public sharing rights with no clear terms of services. Lots of things to build because its new. In many ways they are inviting the privacy tension, but it is memory about things made public that creates both a level of utility and more significant harm. I wonder how much they have thought it through. Some like LinkedIn did, others died, other blasted through it regardless.

That business model — obviously, local advertising and offers has awoken a hidden market. Color could be well positioned to have people actively engaged sharing commerce. But what the model is isn’t clear because it isn’t being tried yet. I hope they do, fast. Because delaying that means uncertainty not just for the company, but effects how it works with the world. And quite frankly, with that funding, and a lot of that not shared, its all a mess of interesting brown.

Originally published on Ross Mayfield’s Weblog