Remember live video broadcasting app Color?
If you ever signed up for Color, you've likely found yourself puzzled by recent emails from the company asking you to broadcast live five times in exchange for entry in an iPhone macro lens giveaway. The company is clearly struggling to acquire users, and not because the technology is bad, but because people are just so damn skeptical of Color.
When Color, a mobile phone app, launched in March 2011 with $41 million in funding behind it, people wanted to either hate it or love it. The app had some impressive technology behind it, but nobody could quite figure it out. Color, in its first iteration, grouped photos together instantaneously from people in the same room or at the same event, with no setup required. Color 1.0 flopped, in large part due to the fact that nobody could figure out how to use it.
In its second iteration, Color lets people live broadcast whatever they're seeing using a smartphone. At launch, there was no audio, the video quality wasn't great, and you were limited to 30 seconds of video. The company has since lifted the 30-second limit and partnered with Verizon for higher quality 4G LTE broadcasting, but only after the buzz died down about its "already-cried-wolf" relaunch. I don't know anybody that uses Color.
Some time later (yesterday), Google dropped a man out of a plane who live broadcasted the entire thing using his Google Glasses headset. The audience oo-ed and ahh-ed. We were all there, and it was breathtaking. We were attached to the man's head as he dropped out of a plane at that moment. I'd be lying if I said my stomach didn't drop a little. Twitter buzzed with snarky comments about the possibility of the man's death live on camera. Sure, it could've happened, and that's the excitement in live broadcasting. People do want this. One man in Silicon Valley's fist likely pumped into the air, then slowly returned to its resting place.
When I spoke to Color founder Bill Nguyen in early May, he told me about a future he envisions where people don't take pictures or shoot video — they just broadcast. It's a future where video is high quality enough that it's easy to grab stills later on if you want. I wrote, referring to Nguyen:
He wants every smartphone to shoot RED-quality HD video, and is convinced that some form of HD video will be streamed live from your smartphone sometime soon. "Six months!" Nguyen blurted out as he grinned from ear to ear.
There's no doubt in my mind that BIll Nguyen watched Google's announcement yesterday (or at least heard about it), though he says he ignores competitors' products. "Holy shit, we totally fucked up," Nguyen may have thought again, and not because his company is not capable of live streaming a skydive, but because they didn't stage a skydive at all. Instead, Color relaunched as a live broadcasting product that lets you share moments (like a birthday, pictured above in a company promo video) live with friends and family. But isn't that what FaceTime's for? Or wait, Color's a group 4G-enabled FaceTime, of sorts, that you can share with friends on Facebook. I'm confused. The most exciting scenarios for live broadcasting were not laid out for the vast majority of people until Google dropped a man out of a plane yesterday.
People ate it up. "Imagine," people thought, "watching a live broadcast of a man summiting Everest or base jumping or readying to take the final putt at The Masters." "Imagine," they thought, "being strapped to Robbie Maddison's head live as he jumped his motorbike to the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Las Vegas." Color has had the technology, but hasn't staged relevant events to brag about it. The company managed a backstage SNL experiment, but that's been about it. I can't expect a startup to match the marketing prowess of a 200 billion dollar company, but I think it's going to take a bit more exciting angle to get new users onboard.
To add fuel to the fire, Google yesterday announced a new feature in Google Events that, wait for it, automatically groups together photos taken by people at parties and lets any attendee check out the pictures. The crowd oo-ed at that too. From Google, the idea sounds like a good idea, and more importantly a simpler idea than Color 1.0 — when in reality it's close to the same thing.
It's unlikely that many Google Glasses owners will be jumping out of a plane and broadcasting the entire thing, but when Google lit up the conference video screen, everybody felt for the man in the plane. We were scared for him, and we were connected with him because of a new technology. It's "show don't tell" at its finest, even if Google did plenty of telling. And that's exactly the art that Color needs to learn.