Color is the new black

Posted: March 27, 2011 in Tech Talk, XX

Many many years ago, I discovered that if I kept mixing together different colors of finger paint, I would eventually get to one powerful tone: black.

On Thursday, I downloaded Color, a new mobile application that mixes together shades of those we’ve grown to love (Foursquare, Twitter,, and Facebook to name a few) to create, what IMHO is one powerful social app. The experience thus far has been far from flawless, but a couple golden moments in the past couple days have given me some basis to understand Color’s $41 million dollar funding and $100 million + pre-launch valuation.

Color is a way for people to, as described by the app itself, “take photos together.” Here’s how it works: You use the app to take pictures of the world around you. These pictures are automatically published to a public album that is visible to, and includes photos taken by, people around you. As you use the app, you build an aesthetically pleasing chronological timeline of your social experience.

Getting Started

The Color home screen, with my own labels to put you out of your misery.

Signing up for Color is a four-step process, three of which are relatively simple (the third is dependent on whether or not your phone has a front-facing camera…):

1. Download the app
2. Type in your name
3. Take a picture of yourself
4. Figure out what the hell the various icons are supposed to represent.

Step 4 highlights the main shortcoming of the app: The user interface is not at all intuitive, making at least the initial experience pretty frustrating. If there’s one thing to understand about human psychology, it’s that first-impressions are everything. And first-impressions are made in a matter of milliseconds. But I’m here to encourage you to stick it out. Using Color is a bit like riding a bike — you’ll fall (metaphorically) a couple times, but once you get the hang of how it works, it is actually pretty fun.

The first time I entered Color was a bit of a letdown for the sole reason that I downloaded the app in the comfort and privacy of my own home. This was a mistake on the very fundamental level that Color is all about connecting with the public. For an enriching Color experience, you need to be in a densely populated area with at least a few Color users, ie, Union Square in San Francisco or Times Square in New York (to use extreme examples).

Don’t let the word “public” scare you

For those concerned with privacy, note that the pictures you take are only visible to those who were within a 150-foot radius at the time, that your location is only tagged when you open the app, and like any social app, people see only what you share.

There’s more to Color than just using it

If you ask me, Color is more than a controversial app. It’s a humongous social experiment through which the app will continue to evolve as people use it. A recent TechCrunch article explained how the company seems to be practicing what it preaches: By opening its office up to the public for opinions and suggestions, Color could indeed be for the public, by the public. Further, this post in ReadWriteWeb explains how Color will help to reveal the “Elastic Social graph,” which, arguably, is a more accurate representation of your real-world network. Unlike Facebook, where once added, people are still considered “friends” even if you haven’t spoken in years and don’t care to speak again, your Color network will dynamically change based on the people around whom you spend the most time.

Golden Moments

Each row is a group album including pictures taken by me and those in the vicinity when my Color app was open.

The initial discovery was Friday (fun fun fun fun) evening, when two friends and I all opened up Color on our phones. The app immediately recognized that we were together. We began snapping pictures which were instantly published to a group album.

On Saturday at brunch, still on our Color-high, we were snapping pictures of our food and the restaurant decor. And we weren’t alone. Our group album included pictures from an unknown Jacob. At one point, one of Jacob’s pictures shed light on the fact that this “unknown” was actually the young male sitting at the table behind us. “Hey Jacob! We’re Color friends!” my friend called out. He smiled and waved. That moment when a complete stranger suddenly became connected to us was precious.

We left the restaurant and started walking down the street. At one intersection, we saw a mural that spelled out the word “Happiness” with smiley faces. I had seen the image about fifteen minutes prior, via Color. “Woah!” I exclaimed. “This is what Josh (unknown Color user), took a picture of just a couple of minutes ago!” The feeling was inexplicable. A shared social experience. A reminder of  your connection to those around you, despite whether you know them or not.

So is Color the next best thing since sliced bread? Is it here to stay?

In the spirit of experimentation and shared public experiences, I’m going to let you try it out and decide for yourself. And we’d love to hear what you think!


  1. Alex C says:

    Great article. I still haven’t had that magical experience with Color, being that LA isn’t quite as tech savvy as a few other locations… That said, I am interested in seeing if this social experiment plays out or gets lost in the noise of modern day mobile Apps.

    • detech'd says:

      Thanks! And yes, it will definitely be interesting to see if this is a fad or if it picks up more broadly and becomes deeply entrenched in our lifestyles.

      By the way, I am intrigued by Hyphos! Requested an invite to the beta — we’d love to write about it!

      • Alex C says:

        Thanks! We’ll definitely get you early beta access when we’re ready for launch. In the meantime, we would love if you’d do a little piece on what we’re building. I’m happy to do a short interview if you’d like.

  2. detech'd says:

    An interview sounds great. I’ll send you an email to set something up!

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