One of my favorite Ted talks is a two minute talk by Derek Sivers titled "The opposite is also true" and I reference it quite a bit. It's essentially about how with any one thing - an idea, a business, a revenue model, etc. - the opposite of that thing can also be true.
A few days ago I wrote a post claiming the fact that color spent half a million dollars on two domain names was an indication that they would be attacking a lot of their problems with money instead of creativity, and that this should be worrisome to their investors.
I still believe this to be true, and there are more specific examples which I'll reference further down the post.
I felt that some people missed my key point, but not everyone. It was probably best summarized by commenter "mp":
i think ppl are missing the point in the comments... its not just about domain names not mattering (which i agree with) but that this decision is a leading indicator of how this team is going to approach the extremely rare and unique chance they have ($40mm) to launch what could truly be a life-changing product...
Today, I'd like to write about the life changing part a bit, why I keep playing with the application, and some of the changes I think the Color team should make - both with their focus, and their execution.
Connecting humans, physically
I've watched/listened to a number of interviews with one of the founders, Bill Nguyen, over this past week. I've heard no better interview than this one with Robert Scoble. In it, Nguyen talks about how in our social networks, we're connected with our friends, family, people we've met on twitter, etc - generally over large distances. We now have a way to stay connected with people that we're not close to - physically that is.
He goes on to talk about how we're very often not connected with our neighbors. Sometimes we don't even know who our neighbors are. Why is this? And how would our relationships change if we suddenly had a mechanism through which we could interact with those in our proximity that we had never met?
Color, I believe, is attempting to add a context through which we can meet with other people, in person.
I absolutely love this idea. One of the reasons I built GoFind was because I liked the idea of using technology to help people actually get together, in person.
And, there is absolutely, without a doubt, some magic going on inside Color. I have no idea how they're doing their proximity thing, but when you have two phones near each other, it does "just work". (Unless one of them is an Android phone, then one phone just works, and the other kind of works.) How do they know each other is there? No clue.
But they're absolutely right that GPS provides significant challenges, and if they've solved this location problem - which it appears they have - when multiple people/devices are trying to meet up, MAGIC.
Lastly, as a community, I think it's important to recognize that we do celebrate when people like Matt Mullenweg write Version 1.0 is the loneliest number. So, okay Color folks, you're embarrassed by version 1.o. You're in good company.
Let's talk about the next version, and how to do it without going all MC Hammer on us.
Important changes to the color team focus
One of the problems with too much money is that it makes us try to do too many things. This is again evident in the way the color team tried to tackle Android. They targeted four versions of the Android OS and something like 16 different handsets (source: the Scoble interview mentioned above.) Let me tell you guys something no one in the Android community will tell you.
The Android ecosystem is a fucking mess.
It's sad, because I presume you might even have access to people like Andy Rubin who used to claim that Fragmentation didn't exist. If he ever told you this to your face, and you made development decisions based on his claims, you should be pissed to holy hell.
Andy Rubin has been lying to Android developers about fragmentation for almost a year, and now, he's locking down the Operating System for this very reason.
Unfortunately, the community is in deep, deep denial over this. First, your application is quite possibly too complex for the Android Operating System. And even if it isn't, trust me, the carriers have done something that will fuck your application up. So, what devices to target?
The G2, running the stock Android experience.
That's it. Oh, and when Andy Rubin calls, just tell him you're not supporting "legacy" devices.
Avoid the Sense UI at all costs.
Your iOS experience is awesome compared to the Android experience. Make Android catch up to your technology, don't taint your technology trying to appease that which can't be appeased.
Now, for some User Stories
For those that aren't familiar, in the world of software development there is a notion of a "user story". It's a way to communicate what kind of changes you'd like to see in software, without talking about "requirements". I'm going to write these as if I was opening tickets for the Color development team. A couple disclaimers:
1) I fully understand your stuff is complex, and maybe some of these things are insanely difficult to implement from a technology standpoint. I'm merely telling you what I, as a user, would find useful.
2) Yet, these are things I *think* you might be able to do with less significant development than tossing out the entire user interface like Bill was talking about doing in the Scoble interview.
I actually don't think the UI is all that bad, once the device is in close proximity to another. It's just the very beginning that's all crazy.
Story 1: As someone opening the color application for the first time, I don't want it to ask me to take my picture. It kind of freaks me out. Instead, I'd like to be able to pull in my facebook profile, or my twitter profile picture.
Justification: Not all phones have forward facing cameras. It's hard taking a picture of myself without a forward facing camera. Also, as the epic review points out, it's creepy.
Story 2: As someone trying to use color for the first time, I want to be able to practice "coloring" by sending a text message to someone, and invite them to "color" with me. (side note: I have to admit, I really do dig the whole, it's a noun and a verb thing you have going on.)
Justification: I just want to target one person, that I trust, with whom I can practice.
Story 3: As someone trying to use Color for the first time, I want to be able to send a chat message to my Facebook friends that are online and ask them if they want to color with me.
Justification: I don't want you to automatically create groups from my Facebook profile. That's probably going to make me feel stupid again because I don't know that I'll have anyone to practice with. Again, one person to practice with.
Story 4: As someone trying to use Color for the first time, I want to be able to send a twitter reply to someone and invite them to "color" with me, again, so I can practice.
Justification: Same as above.
Story 5: As someone that uses GroupMe, I'd like to be able to start a color group with my GroupMe group.
Justification: This will allow me to understand the power of color, without having to physically be near anyone else.
(Alternative solution, what the hell, just buy GroupMe.)
Let's talk about the themes
The theme with all of this, is that most users will not be near other users when they first try out the app. Bill Nguyen was talking about widening the proximity radius, but I think that's still problematic.
You need to look at this period as a "train the trainers" time period. My siblings are never going to do this stuff, I realize that, because they're not techy. That's fine. But, I need to know how to train my siblings. Feel me?
Also, Seth Godin talks a lot about the difference between trying to change people's world views, and trying to leverage peoples word views.
Color is trying way too hard to change my worldview. And that freaks my shit out. My worldview right now is as follows:
* I am connected to, and interested in, people that are physically far away from me.
* I live with the people that are physically near me, and my wife gets mad at me when I take her picture when she's in her pajamas.
* Pictures are still kind of personal. I generally have the opportunity to edit them and make sure I want to put them somewhere for the world to see.
* Your application is scary because it takes pictures and puts them someplace I didn't know exists.
Instead, let me "Color" with the people I'm already connected to, and let us have fun practicing together. Let us tweet about our practice sessions and share them on Twitter and Facebook.
The danger for Color right now, I believe, is that they think the UI is the problem. That's certainly PART of the problem, but I don't think it's the core problem.
Color needs to create a sort of gravitational pull to get me and others to use their application with the people we're already connected with. If they don't do this, it doesn't matter how great the new UI is, because I still won't use the app.
Instead however, if I see a new group pop up that's nearby me, while I'm using the app with my existing network, (because my neighbor across the street is doing the same thing!) I might just check that new group out.
And if you connect me with someone new, someone that becomes a friend because I live near them, you just might have a shot at changing my world.