Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Video: With $41M in Hand, Color Offers New Proximity-Based Social Network

I can hear the haters already: ANOTHER photo-sharing app? ANOTHER social network?


Bill Nguyen, the serial entrepreneur who most recently sold Lala to Apple for around $80 million, is today launching Color, a proximity-based social network with no privacy settings.

The effulgent Nguyen has already gotten Sequoia Capital, Bain Capital and Silicon Valley Bank to buy into his next act, raising $41 million in seed and Series A rounds in the eight months since he left Apple last year.

Color launches today on iPhone and Android (BlackBerry and Windows Phone are said to be coming soon). It is primarily a photo-sharing app, though text and video are also supported.

Rather than friending or following each other, Color’s users simply post pictures. Then, other users open the app and see pictures that Color has determined are relevant to them.

Users see pictures posted recently and nearby to their current location, as well as pictures posted by other members they’ve expressed an interest in by looking at, liking or commenting on their content.

This concept seems fitting for events–say, a sports game or a wedding–where lots of people who don’t necessarily know each other are taking photos of the same thing.

Everything posted on Color is public, and Color owns the rights to all content on the service (though users can delete their own uploads.)

What’s different about Color is relationships are implicit rather than explicit. This tweak may well resonate with people who feel their Facebook and Twitter friend lists are random, outdated and overwhelming.

Color hired away LinkedIn Chief Scientist DJ Patil to lead a team that dynamically determines what pictures and users are relevant.

So, for instance, to augment a location signal from GPS, Color will use clues like lighting and ambient noise to understand that two photos were taken in the same place. It will also try to understand which people users are interested in, and how that changes over time–so if a user hasn’t interacted with someone’s pictures for the while, that person’s icon will appear further out and darker in the user’s list of relevant people (Color calls this the “elastic network”).

Color hopes that the public nature of its service combined with the personal nature of a single user’s smartphone photos will ensure that people keep it decent. Its business model is to be location-based advertising.

Color also counts Peter Pham, formerly of BillShrink and Photobucket, as co-founder and president. (There are seven total with the co-founder title.) Pham and Nguyen showed off the product and described the company vision and business model in a video interview at the company’s expansive downtown Palo Alto offices earlier this week, which seem mostly empty despite Color’s team of 30 employees.

The real test, of course, will be not how many employees it can hire and how much money it can raise, but how many people actually find the product useful.

Will people see the value in contributing their experiences to Color’s massive repository? Will they understand how the app works, with its ample use of coinages like “bulletins” (proximity-based view), “visual diary” (chronological diary view) and “multilens” (albums of multiple people’s photos of the same thing)? We’ll have to see.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google