Back in March of last year, an innovative but ill-fated iPhone and Android app named Color debuted. It let you share photos with nearby folks who you didn’t necessarily know; the idea was that it would be cool for use at concerts, conferences and other locales with large numbers of strangers with shared interests — a fluid, ad-hoc form of social interaction which the company called an “elastic network.”
Color’s founders included Bill Nguyen, who started music-streaming service Lala, which was acquired by Apple. They did such a good job of talking up its potential that the company received $41 million in funding from venture capitalists, and lots of attention when it premiered. But the initial version of the app was as confusing and buggy as it was ambitious. Some consumers couldn’t figure it out; others did, but found it unappealing. These two facts about the app — huge war chest, failed launch — were so striking that nobody ever writes about it without mentioning them. (Look, I’m doing it now!)
Rather than forging ahead with the original concept, Color’s creators decided to start over with a new app that had few obvious similarities with their first effort. Color became a way for Facebook users to instantly share quick no-audio, low-fidelity video clips with each other in real time. Instead of emphasizing the elastic network concept, it was the real-time live-streaming aspect of the app that Color focused on.
The new version felt less like a direct competitor to other live-streaming apps such as Ustream and Justin TV, and more like a Twitter that was about showing rather than telling, or an Instagram that moved. And it was pretty straightforward — although as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been wildly successful.
Now the company is moving forward with a new version of its video-sharing service. It features a higher frame rate, resulting in smoother videos. But the big news is that Color has struck a deal with Verizon Wireless. The app will come preinstalled on some Verizon Android handsets, and both the iPhone and Android versions have been tailored, Color says, to work best on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. Verizon customers will also be able to create videos with sound (users on all networks will be able to hear these videos, but won’t be able to record audio themselves).
The Verizon partnership hasn’t had that much of an impact on Color yet. Video clips are still limited to 30 seconds in length, and they’re still in low definition. But Nguyen — who’s kind of a genius when it comes to waxing enthusiastic about his projects — told me the goal is to enable sharing of longer videos in glorious high definition, and that the collaboration with Verizon will help Color get there. (He also raved about his RED ultra-high-resolution camera, an amazing gadget which certainly gives the company a lofty goal to aim at.)
The company is also carefully reviving the initial “elastic network” idea that quickly fizzled the first time around, by working with ShareWith911.com to use Color as a means to alert first responders to emergencies. The notion is that these people will carry phones with Color installed, and the ones closest to emergencies will get notified when they’re needed.
I suspect that it’s a given that Color will continue to morph. Nguyen’s last startup, Lala, started out as a CD-swapping service, then bought a terrestrial radio station, then tried giving away music for free — and finally became a really well-done streaming service which, sadly, Apple shut down. (There are hints of it in the iTunes Match service.) And even though the original Color went nowhere, I still think that the concept of letting strangers in proximity to each other share stuff has boatloads of potential.
So let’s see where the company and its app go. We’ll know it’s on to something if articles like this one start mentioning Color’s early misadventures only parenthetically — or not at all.