Yesterday, I wrote about Color, a new app that has the promise to become a ubiquitous, location-aware sensor network. It’s first incarnation is as a photo sharing application available on iPhone and Android.
The initial launch has met with much criticism, including comparisons to Wave — a doomed social effort from Google.
Consider the similarities:
Enormous expectations. Wave was hyped by Google and given high profile executive attention at Google I/O. Color’s expectations have been set by having raised $41 million.
Poor out-of-the-box experience. Both Wave and Color have poor first experiences for the casual user. Even industry luminaries are scratching their heads.
Big change in user behavior. Both Wave and Color go against established patterns of user behavior. Wave tried to replace email. Color is challenging the notion of manually creating friend lists.
Google made a number of key execution mistakes in the launch of Wave. Fortunately, Color has avoided the biggest one: Wave was opened slowly on an invite-only basis. Despite the fact that the product was based on group interactions, you couldn’t get enough invites. I know. I tried to get my entire team to use Google Wave, but I couldn’t secure enough invites. Color doesn’t require a special invite.
There are a couple of other key mistakes Google made. Here’s how Color can avoid them:
Lack of notifications. When I would make a change in Google Wave, the other participants had no way of knowing that I made the change. (Short of logging back into the service.) After I did this a few times and got no response, I stopped using it. The same exists with Color. I will see people’s photos randomly added to my Color application, but I don’t get notified when it happens. Getting notified when other people nearby are using Color would increase usage because you wouldn’t feel like you were talking to an empty room. It would also make face-to-face interactions easier. Notifications are an important part of ramping up any social network. At some point, your product will become so popular that people will use it all day unprompted. (I shut off Facebook email notifications long ago.) Until then, you need to nudge people to use it.
Lack of clear use cases. Most people have a really difficult time adopting radically new product concepts. You need to hold their hands and show them how it could apply to their lives. Wave didn’t do that. You were dumped into a blank canvas with a lot of unfamiliar controls. Color is much the same. There’s little guidance as to how Color can improve your life. The initial controls are so tight that you also can’t easily see how other people are using the product.
Then there a few things that are specific to Color and its goals that should be improved:
Lack of location/time liquidity. Color matches you with people based on photos being taken at the same place at the same time. That’s overly restrictive. Outside of major events and cities like San Francisco, this is going to be infrequent at best in this stage of the product’s adoption. It’s as if you launched foursquare and could only see tips left by users in the last 5 minutes. Older content has value. A few years ago, I took a set of pictures at Liberty Tavern. These pictures are valuable even now. And they’re certainly better than showing nothing. Showing older content would also encourage more people to take pictures. If privacy is a concern, older pictures with faces could be excluded with face detection software.
Locations aren’t visible. For a product that is focused on location, it doesn’t do a good job of showing it. I have random people in my Color feed, but I don’t know where I might have bumped into them — I have to guess at that. It would be better if I could select a person and see a map of where I met them with the date and time. Someone commented on one of my pictures asking where it was taken. That’s not a question they should have to ask. The data is already in the network; it should be accessible. (With the caveat that private places should be obscured so that someone doesn’t follow you home.)
People can’t connect with experts. One of the big reasons for the success of Twitter is that it works even if you don’t have any friends. When I’ve done user research on social products in the past, I inevitably had people who said “I don’t have any friends” or “my friends are stupid.” Social products need to work even in these scenarios. In fact, most of my real friends aren’t on Twitter. But I can still derive value from the people who are. With any social product, you’ll have a few people who are on the bleeding edge who can seed content for you. Exploit that. To fit into Color’s model of not requiring explicit follows, they could be added automatically if someone browses their pictures.
With the increasing use of mobile applications such as Yelp and foursquare, it’s becoming possible to pull ideas from thin air. Users of these apps can leave tips for others to find that are linked to a specific location.
In most places there aren’t enough tips yet to make filtering an issue. San Francisco International Airport, with more than 57,000 checkins on foursquare, is an exception. It offers a glimpse of what we can expect as these services become more popular. The airport is the perfect petri dish for tips: it serves a technically savvy audience and people often find themselves there with plenty of time on their hands.
The SFO tips page contains dozens of notes including places to eat, complaints, ground transportation, wifi and power availability. Mixed in to all of this are ads, other spam and random observations. Some examples:
have a corned beef sandwich at max’s if you’re flying southwest. the best! well, really good
When you enter short term parking do it as far to the right as you can (lvl 2) & then immediately head to lvl 1. There is always parking next to gate and that is the lvl that connects to the terminal
Free wifi at the Continental lounge in Terminal 1- be warned, it’s located outside Security
Smoking hot brunette woman at gate 20. Stop by and smile at her. She is so lovely!
Bart to Millbrae gets you within 1 block of an in n out burger. Great for 3+ hour layover!
Heading to wine country? Take a moment to stop by St. Supery in the heart of Napa on Hwy 29. Mention this to get a 2 for 1 tasting.
Sorting through the volume of tips can be overwhelming. As the volume increases, we’ll need ways to filter them. Among the ways to filter:
Social network. Among the tips were tips from people I follow on Twitter, including Danny Sullivan and Adam Lasnik. Being able to surface these would increase relevance.
Ads vs. not ads. Sometimes people want ads, especially if it can save them money.
Places like airports are especially complex because they’re really collections of places, sometimes with other groupings and physical restrictions. Being able to filter tips by terminal would also be useful. But then maybe that’s best left to GateGuru.
In 2007, I used a third-party application from Where to include my location. Clicking on that link would take you to a map on Where’s site showing the address. (The link in the original post no longer works.)
With the launch of Twitter Places, the search is done within the Web browser (and soon in Twitter’s mobile applications). You can select where you are from a list of nearby places. Clicking on the place name brings up the map above and the option to view tweets about that place.
Although the difference between the two may seem subtle, they are significant:
Because the place is metadata, it doesn’t count toward the 140 character limit.
Place names are human readable, unlike addresses and latitude/longitude. Knowing the name of a place makes it much easier to find than just a street address, especially in dense metropolitan areas.
Places are unique to a specific venue. Doing a pure location-based search would return tweets from surrounding businesses or businesses that have since disappeared.
Integration in to the main Twitter experience means broad exposure and eventual standardization of place identifiers. That has been a longstanding challenge in the local space.
Twitter’s geo APIs have been available for several months and third parties like bing have created interesting applications like Twitter Maps. With the availability of places across the Twitter platform, we can expect to see more interesting applications including both real-time applications (ride sharing and ticket exchanges) and historical (restaurant reviews, past events).
Once Twitter allows owners to claim their Place and associate it with a Twitter account, we could see official tweets of announcements and offers incorporated into a Place’s search results.
When pictures are tagged to a Place (instead of a lat/long), we’ll have the ability to visually browse a venue in Twitter.
Most local businesses are too busy running their business to exert a lot of effort maintaining an online presence. If it’s not easy, it won’t get done. My favorite example of a small business reusing their existing work is the Webcam pointed at the wall of Beachwood BBQ where they list the pints on tap.
The challenge is that these businesses are only announcing their presence to existing customers or passersby. While this can help drive repeat visits through specials, notices of new arrivals, etc. it does little to bring in new customers.
That’s where foursquare comes in. This location-based social game allows users to “check in” to places they visit. Check in often enough and you become the “mayor” of that place. Savvy businesses have latched on to this and begun offering discounts to their mayors.
It has also been incorporated into the foursquare check in process. When I checked in at a restaurant in Seattle, I was presented with an offer at a nearby bar: happy hour all day for the mayor or $1 off well drinks for anyone else who checked in. (Checking in updates your social network status, providing further exposure for the business.) It’s one of the first examples of location-based mobile advertising that works. The process is a bit cumbersome now, but it provides a glimpse into where the technology is headed.
In addition to providing exposure to businesses, it solves a user problem that local search has long failed at: discovery. People often don’t know what they’re looking for when they’re out. Suggestions, even if they’re sponsored, help fill the discovery gap.