Color is the latest start-up from entrepreneur Bill Nguyen, who has had his hands in a string of successful ventures. The most recent, an online music service called LaLa, was sold to Apple in 2009. Private investors have poured $41 million, a staggering figure for a pre-launch start-up.
What Color does is seamlessly allow people in close proximity (about 150 feet) to instantly share text, photos and video. People at the same party or event who download the free Color app will automatically see each other's media streams on their smartphones.
"It's like going to a wedding," Nguyen said, "and people leave disposable cameras laid all over the place. It's just like that, except we're doing it with iPhones and Androids. Every picture they take, you have. Every picture you take, they have."
Unlike other social networks, users of Color do not have to ask others to be their friends, it is an open system. But as you lose proximity, you lose the link to that person unless you keep in touch. That provides some amount of control over how long you stay connected, if at all. A user can also "hide" another user, cutting off a connection.
The app is free, but it will also provide an opportunity for local advertising. Nguyen explained that if a person is in a specific restaurant, they might get photos of that day's special. The restaurant will also know if the person been there before so they can welcome them back.
Color has 30 employees. One senior systems and network engineer says he left a lucrative job, including stock options, to join Color. He is convinced the new app is "revolutionary, not evolutionary."
The start-up operates out of a former toy store on Hamilton Avenue, just a block west of Palo Alto City Hall. Its extensive bank of windows is covered over with paper for now, but Thursday, a large public area will be unveiled. Nguyen says he wants the community to drop in and chat with the staff so they can get ideas from users to improve the app. Color has a woodworking shop in the basement to create the plywood and saw horse tables in the public and engineering space. Downstairs, employees' children have a play area with handcrafted toys.
The app goes live on the Apple iTunes Store later Wednesday night, as well as the Android Marketplace. Versions for Blackberry and Windows 7 will be available in about two weeks.