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Crap Now in Color

So if you follow the tech press at all, you have likely heard of Color, the new social networking app to be found at the uber-cool URL These guys raised $41 million to build a new platform for photo sharing, a social networking app that is supposedly not based on friends or creating logins or locations or anything like that. Rather, its based on events. And it’s not as if you have to tell it what event you’re attending. Apparently, the app has intelligence, to know based on the photo you’re taking, your GPS coordinates, and even the ambient sound detected by the phone, where you are. And so it shares with you all the photos (and comments?) of other people in the same event at the same time. Presumably, there’s also some means of reviewing those photos later or remotely (if you’re not at the event) as well.

So I guess that these guys have a bit of a chicken and egg problem going on. The app isn’t worth anything until lots of people have already downloaded it, and nobody has a reason to download it until lots of other people already have. So how to get early adopters? Color has decided on a PR blitz, but that has its limits. The early downloaders may get turned off to the app, not understanding what it’s about. The solution offered by the company founder in an interview is to download it with a friend by your side, but that seems impractical. At a minimum, they should have provided some functionality that would make the app at least moderately fun using solo, until others get on board and sign up.

But none of this is really why I’m blogging about this. What bothers me are the privacy concerns. The founders clearly think that this new “social network”, without “friends” or even a login provides plenty of privacy on its own. But I’m not so sure. Here’s a few select quotes from the interview mentioned above:

BI: So are you collecting data about people’s interests? How are you figuring out their social graphs?

BN: On the Web the way we would answer those interest questions is ask people. What do you like to do? Where are you?
What we do is very different. We know for example if you go to a certain place between the hours of 7 and 10 pm, it’s probably for personal entertainment, it’s not necessarily for work. If you’re somewhere between 8 pm and 5 am or 7am, it’s probably where you reside. So the phone is giving us a lot of information that helps us understand what you’re doing. What’s cool about this is we collect no personally identifiable information. We don’t collect your last name, we don’t collect a password. When we think about you, it’s not you, it’s your cell phone. So maybe we’re really a social network of cell phones.

BI: The app is free, so what’s your business model?

BN: Advertising through the app. We’re going to build a intelligent system that allows businesses to participate with their customers. So when you walk into a restaurant and you use Color, and they’re also customers through a self-service Web interface — or actually a self-service iPad interface — every time you walk into the restaurant, your [first] name will show up with your picture. The maitre d’ or receptionist will know who you are, they’ll be able to welcome you, they’ll know the last time you were here, they’ll be able to see pictures if you took them here. They’ll be able to provide you better service than they’ve ever before, that’s going to drive up their revenue by increasing repeat business because we always want to go back where we feel welcome.

BI: They would pay you for that capability?

BN: Exactly.

I’m not sure if they expect you to keep running the app and taking pictures at all hours of the day, or what. But what he describes certainly sounds creepy. Reading things like this makes me think Apple is really on to something running only one app at a time, as opposed to Android’s version of multitasking. Also, it sounds like you can create an optional account or something? I’m not entirely clear, but I feel like I should steer clear of this until some questions about it get answered. And I’m still not at all sold on the utility of the social network in the first place. I suppose I can wait it out and see if other people start buzzing about it. Regardless, based on what the founder said in the interview above, I certainly wouldn’t consider downloading it for Android.

On a related note, people who have been following me for some time will know that I started a business some time ago at that deals with many of these same dynamics described in the restaurant scenario above, except that it was devised for use at trade shows where privacy is not really expected, and where we were very explicit about when information was being collected and when it wasn’t. Well, over the last six months, I’d been contacted by two sets of entrepreneurs wanting to buy the domain name, each offering in the VERY low 5 figures for it. Seemed way too low a figure to me. But these guys bought for who knows how much. I wonder if they were trying to buy as a backup plan…

UPDATE: Gruber puts it better than I did.

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