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Color and the death of “Beta”

This past Friday was pretty confusing for app reviewers; while scoping out new releases to examine, I came across a large number of media outlets reporting that Color, released March 23, was going to be the newest thing in social sharing. It touted a number of features that both amazed and confused me, particularly its main function: photos taken in a geographic proximity to each other (such as at a concert, office or party) would be grouped automatically together for viewing and commenting.

Users would take a picture of themselves to furnish a profile, which, in turn, would be viewable to anyone who happened to be in range. Naturally, since it was reported on heavily, users scrambled to download Color en masse; after all, how much bragging rights would they be entitled to if they were among the first to use such an amazing and revolutionary app?

Color is an interesting concept, and provoked a number of questions, like “What if people didn’t want every photo available they take at a party made public?” “What happens when someone wants something deleted?” and “Do people actually take party pictures with the frequency the FAQ image would suggest?”

It would have been great to answer some of these questions, had the application not been a buggy piece of garbage.

So that’s how it’s supposed to work…

I’m honestly quite disappointed. On paper, Color should have been an interesting take on the Instagr.am “social photo stream” fad: it had received $41 million dollars in pre-release funding from venture capitalists and had taken the time to secure two large domain names (color.com and colour.com, respectively.) That much effort and potential shouldn’t have yielded a bad product. Any company with so much media hype and investor confidence has to be good, right? Sadly, users didn’t see it that way, slamming the app’s market page with harsh review after harsh review.

But were those users right in doing so? I mean, Color applied the “beta” tag to the title. In theory, that should absolve it from fault when it:

  • Failed to work at all on any number of phone models.
  • Looped force-close after force-close when the user tries to do any number of basic app functions, such as attach a user image, or take photos, period.
  • Forgot to teach the user how to use the app in the first place, due to a lack of any FAQs, tutorials or information whatsoever.

I would list more, but that was all I could get Color to do on my Motorola Milestone, which is barely a year old. Not everyone has access to horribly high-end models, and should be able to expect that something as low-fi as a gallery should work quite well. But these flaws in basic operation are alright; I mean, it’s in beta, right?

I would fully expect Color to try to take advantage of that “beta” status to save face, saying that its obvious lack of quality control or testing was all “part of the plan”. After all, it was the glorious users who alerted them to the problems, so the beta must have done its job. It’s a pity that what was once a term that had a valid point in a development cycle of an app is now being used as a licence to ship something completely nonfunctional.

“Beta” used to imply that a piece of software was close to completion, had all its features in a row and just neeed some last minute tweaking by a small group of users who understood that they were getting an unfinished product. While Color hits some of those points, it utterly fails on others: it is nowhere near “feature complete” if, as a social app, it cannot run on a great number of phones.

It is even worse if the control group of users who are testing expect that it is complete, regardless of the label attached. As we’ve seen, the Android userbase is quick to chew up and spit out anything that fails to deliver. Does this mean we, as users, are going to be wary of the beta tag in the future? Will we be more likely to forgive developers who hide behind its shield?

Will we insist that an app actually be worked on until it’s fit for mass consumption, instead of being pushed out to generate and satisfy hype?

These are questions to think about while you’re mashing that “download” button in the Marketplace.

Matt Demers is Droid Life’s app guy, and has missed writing these kind of articles. You can follow him on Twitter and through his site, and e-mail him with tips.

  • http://profiles.google.com/taylor.wroblewski Taylor Wroblewski

    I was one of the users that instantly searched and hunted to download the app. After about a day I was able to get my hands on it while my iPhonie friends already had access but were too stupid to use it. As much as you insist I really don’t think it’s up to the company to direct the user how to use such a SIMPLE app. If you knew anything at all about the core function of the app it’s that you need to be in range of other individuals whose phones are running the app. If you don’t do that then yes you’re screwed right from the start wondering when something’s going to happen.

    With all that said once me and a few friends did get it installed it worked flawlessly for me. Ok maybe I got a force close a couple times (ya that’s all) but other than that it worked no matter where we went (bars, park, own apartment, even in the car).

    So after using it for a while I was wondering when the updates would come through so the other harsh reviews would improve but to my amazement the app was just pulled right out of the market. I miss Color and really think they had a good thing going if all these damn tech blog know it alls weren’t so damn hard on them.

    Agree or disagree it just needs more time to bake.

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  • Theflyingswami

    $41 Million to make an effen’ phone app? Madness. Frankly, it doesn’t even sound interesting. So I can share photos with other people in the immediate area? Big friggin’ whoop!

  • Anonymous

    I still never found out if pictures were tied to a geographical location or to a device (and whoever was near that device could see them). I don’t think it’d be a good idea to tie it to the device (unless you just renamed it Stalker™) and there are plenty of apps that will show you pictures of a specific location.

  • jag28co

    I can not find it when I click on market on my DX (rooted leaked Gingerbread) and when I go to the website on my computer I am able to see it but it says it is not compatible with my deviced. I had it before upgrading to GB. My problem is not that I can install it but am I able to see all apps with the upgrade?

  • Anonymous

    Am I the only one who can’t find this app in the app store?

  • Anonymous

    This is not a beta. Beta means mostly complete (like stated in the article), but expect some annoyances. It seems like this is an early-mid alpha build to me.

  • Eric J

    Great Article!

  • digsoreos

    How many of you have smartphones that take excellent, low-light party photos? Exactly.

  • http://twitter.com/jdrch Judah Richardson

    Color, quite simply, is the epitome of what is wrong with the tech startup/VC/social media bubble.

  • http://twitter.com/jbernard703 Jeff Bernard

    Since you Android lovers most likely don’t follow Apple blogs you may not have seen the sweet review of Color in the App Store. It is pretty funny and if you’ve installed the app it will make you laugh. Or you can just say Apple sucks and send me creppy messages on my twitter account like some people who visit this site…..

    http://mike3k.posterous.com/best-app-store-review-ever

    • DroidzFX

      apple does suck and creepy message is on the way.

      PS we dont want to read an apple blog

      • Anonymous

        I choose the creepy option.

    • http://profiles.google.com/zshazz Chris Cain

      Trolling + direct twitter link = … ?

      What did you honestly expect?

    • http://profiles.google.com/zshazz Chris Cain

      Trolling + direct twitter link = … ?

      What did you honestly expect?

    • Anonymous

      Could you please do the needful and slip in a puddle of AIDS troll?

    • Anonymous

      Looks like a pedophiles’s mugshot.

    • http://twitter.com/mattdemers Matt Demers

      Yeah, I saw this and laughed heartily.

      • Leenotsa

        I, for one, didn’t try out this app, but that review is Fantastic!

    • http://twitter.com/mattdemers Matt Demers

      Yeah, I saw this and laughed heartily.

  • Anonymous

    Was it difficult to type “color” and not “colour” Matt? Heh heh. =Þ

    • http://twitter.com/mattdemers Matt Demers

      Very, sir. There’s a huge kerfuffle about Brits and Canadians hating the app.

  • Anonymous

    This company is really getting a lot of press, even here in the Silicon Valley. Raising 41M is unheard of for an start up. Will have to keep an eye out.

    I hope no one is taking any nude pics and having them show up on Color to your surrounding coummunity LOL

    • Anonymous

      The VC wouldn’t have been as impressive if Brett Favre hadn’t invested 40 million. :P

      • Anonymous

        LMAO :)

    • http://twitter.com/jbernard703 Jeff Bernard

      The founders of Color all have a proven track record. I think that is the rationale behind the amount of money invested.

      • Anonymous

        I agree, and the support of hidden bacers like Steve Jobs. I am sure that
        Apple has some influance as well. Will wait and see how this start up does
        in a couple of years..

  • http://www.facebook.com/benmarvin Ben Marvin

    The app runs fine on my G2, although the buttons could use some labels. I can take pictures and post, but it’s useless by yourself. Need to use it at a party or concert with other people for it to have any use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.c.grant Eric Grant

    I had no idea Color was supposed to be beta. I saw a news story/advertisement for it on every news site and blog that I read. I don’t believe I saw one positive comment on any of those stories. They must have spent all of that $41 million on paying everyone to run those stories and those two domain and left nothing for development.

    I like what you said about Beta but Google is guilty of using beta on almost everything they do to the point where they leave it on too long and it loses all meaning that way too.

    • http://twitter.com/TuxDotKing Avichi Suite

      True. Google is notorious for using the Beta tag long past the point when a service is stable and tested.

      What Color did is much worse though in my opinion. Whoever gave 41 million dollars to a company that can’t muster the intelligence to provide proper development labels (This is not a beta, it’s still in alpha stage at least; when I compare it’s quality to other alpha software I’ve tested, it’s more like pre-alpha), needs to get their heads checked. There were tons of other startups with much brighter futures.

  • http://twitter.com/Chasemanhattan3 Chase Chick

    Tried to use this app over the weekend. Could not get it to do anything other than force close. Wake me up when some devs with a brain are in the picture.

  • Anonymous

    This is an outstanding post. It would make a great colloquium at Google I/O. Any app developer would be remiss in not considering the true meaning of “beta.”

    • http://twitter.com/mattdemers Matt Demers

      Thank you, sir. I hope to write more posts like this in the future.

    • http://twitter.com/mattdemers Matt Demers

      Thank you, sir. I hope to write more posts like this in the future.

  • thegeek

    Doesn’t it only work for images taken within a few hundred feet? That’s not a good app for people who live in less populated areas. Even in cities a decent size like des moines or omaha or even kansas city there are very few places where you will have enough people around to make it a good social tool. They should have it show the closest few hundred pictures or all within a few hundred feet. That way jim bob can be out herding sheep and still have a few hundred pictures to look at.

  • http://profiles.google.com/chrisleighton3 Chris Leighton

    ZOMG I GOT TEH FURST COMMNT

    • http://www.facebook.com/ThornfullessRose Devin Jones

      nope…

    • http://www.facebook.com/minh43 Minh Ly

      seriously get a frickin life.

  • Kiter86

    First!