Some might call it a pivot, but the decision to change iPhone (s aapl) app Color from its own contained social network into a photo/video extension of Facebook (via NYT) (s nyt) is more like a last-chance effort at achieving relevance. The new Color will plug into a users’ Facebook accounts, neatly organizing their Facebook photos and allowing them to “visit” and live stream one another.
Color will add some useful features that make it more than just another Facebook photo browser. It lets you Like and comment on photos, just like you can on the web, but it also introduces the ability to create and share group photo albums with multiple people, which is more than Facebook currently offers through its own service.
It also lets you view your Feed and the new Timeline history of activity as pure photo streams. And there’s the “visit” feature, which lets you request access to live-streaming video from either friends, or anyone who has their permission settings arranged such that you can see their content.
You can request visits whenever you want; someone doesn’t have to be online. If they aren’t, they’ll receive a push notification from Color on their iPhone (or Android (s goog) device). Live streams initiated through the app can be viewed either through the app itself, or on the Facebook website. It sounds a little bit like the new approach Google is taking with its ability to broadcast through Hangouts. It’s not exactly video chat, and it’s more interactive than straightforward video posting. It doesn’t currently allow video recording or audio, but that could come in future versions.
Color’s problem was that it was too ephemeral and too small. It couldn’t muster a large enough group, even at major events, to be relevant to any users. Facebook’s network means it shouldn’t have a problem when it comes to users. But its differentiating factors still depend on being in the moment; without the real-time elements of visiting and live streaming, it seems like little more than a Facebook photo browser.
The new version of Color will remain in private beta for a while longer, and then move into a larger, invite-based testing phase. The broadcast angle is interesting, and could make Color a very useful Facebook feature. We’ll see if Color can thrive using the network of another, where it failed trying to curate its own.