I don’t like writing about stuff I haven’t tried. Plenty of products that look swell in demos to tech journalists don’t work very well. Sometimes, in fact, they don’t work at all. So I sometimes pass on covering new gadgets, apps, and services until I can spend time with them–even as other sites are expressing opinions based largely on having the items in question described to them in glowing terms by tech execs.
Yesterday, however, I wrote about Color, a new smartphone app that automatically shares photos and videos with people near you. I thought it was a nifty idea. It comes from a company cofounded by Bill Nguyen, whose previous startup Lala was definitely a nifty idea. And I did get to fool around a bit with the app during a demonstration in a real-word setting–a restaurant, which is the sort of place that Color is supposed to be fun and useful. That’s a major step beyond just having it explained via PowerPoint.
The meeting I had with Color included several staffers–Bill Nguyen wasn’t one of them, but Peter Pham, the startup’s president and another guy with an impressive background, was. They said that the company was going to be a big deal and that the product was a breakthrough, as startup founders doing demos are wont to do. They also mentioned that the company had raised $41 million in funding, which is a lot of dough for a phone app.
Besides briefing folks like me, the company issued a press release that wasn’t shy about raising expectations–actually, it used the word “miraculous” to describe the app, a term even Steve Jobs might think twice about throwing around.
When Color’s news broke yesterday, some of the coverage was giddy:
But not all of it–some said the app’s defining notion of looking at photos of strangers is creepy:
And the initial ratings on reviews on the App Store are largely cranky, for multiple reasons: They say the app is confusing, crashy, and unappealing:
At some point, as TechCrunch’s MG Siegler notes, Color coverage turned into Color backlash–against the app and especially against the fact that $41 million had been invested in it. Now the company is responding to the flack and saying a better version is in the works.
All of which left me pondering Color and the early coverage of it–especially my coverage. Should I have abstained from expressing any opinions whatsoever until I could use the app extensively? Did I err by not even mentioning the 41 million bucks? Did the fact that I didn’t find the concept icky reveal that I didn’t get it?
You can tell me what you think. But I’m relieved that I was smart enough to be a bit guarded: I said right away that I wasn’t reviewing the app, and hedged my bets by using if and could in my assessment: “if it lives up to its potential it could be a big hit.”
I didn’t mention the $41 million in my first post, for several reasons:
- Technologizer is really about stuff, not the business machinations behind the stuff;
- I’m not an expert on venture capital and therefore can’t write very intelligently about it;
- Even though I’m not an expert on venture capital, I do know that there’s no reliable link between the amount of money a company is able to raise and the quality of its idea and its chance at success. (Kozmo.com, a truly stupid idea for a company, raised $250 million before imploding.) The only way anyone will know for sure whether investing $41 million in Color is an act of genius or a massive blunder is when it changes the world, or fails to do so.
For the record, anyone who’s ever talked to Bill Nguyen knows that he’s very, very good at inducing infectious excitement. I met with him several times about Lala, and always came away jazzed about the company, whether we were discussing the several early incarnations of the service that turned out to be dead ends or the one which was pretty wonderful while it lasted. I’m sure Nguyen-induced infectious enthusiasm–which is not the same thing as irrational exuberance–played a part in Color’s bankroll and some of the breathless early stories. And it may have, um, colored my take, even though I spoke with his colleagues rather than the guy himself.
I didn’t dwell on the idea that Color might be creepy in my first post–I did briefly bring up the notion of it being used for stalking–because…well, because it doesn’t strike me as creepy. It struck me as a neat idea, if it’s well done. And it still does. (I haven’t tried the app for an extended period yet, mostly because I’m on the road at the moment–in fact, I’m writing this on airplane.)
A few final thoughts on all this:
- I’m really glad I instinctively shy away from forming or expressing definitive opinions based on concepts and demos and will redouble my efforts to so;
- I called Color’s interface “slick and distinctive” and noted that it didn’t use many labels or words. I wish I’d followed up by saying something like “Of course, that might prove to be confusing…”‘;
- There’s something to be said for launching products with no hype whatsoever, especially ones which are dependent on users understanding and loving them–nobody found that Twitter and Facebook didn’t live up to the initial hoopla, because there was no initial hoopla;
- If people who have written about Color can be divided into those who think it’s a hollow gimmick and those who think there’s a big idea in there somewhere, I’m still in the latter camp.
And if you’ve got any opinions to share–about Color, about Color coverage, about the proper way to write about new products–I’d love to hear them.