Ok Color. How about solving the more basic (and important) problem with photos?


Ever hear of this start-up called Color? They launched a social photo sharing thing yesterday. And raised $41M.

Oh wait. Everyone has heard of Color by now (and has an opinion about it; re: their capital raise, I’d refer you to a recent post on that subject)

What I want to talk here isn’t the Color business, the financing or how much it paid for Color.com. It seems to me that this most basic problem with photos hasn’t come close to being solved yet. And while I don’t have a strong opinion around what Color is doing (although with age, I fear that I’m finding that many of these types of apps don’t much appeal to me personally) the hype around it did make me wonder why no one has yet figured out an answer to this much larger and more interesting problem:

Why hasn’t anyone solved the most basic photo problem of all – the ingestion, compilation, backup and sharing of digital media?

Everyone I know has the same basic problem with photos: They’re everywhere. On your phone. Synced with one of 5 different computers. Sitting on one of 3 different external hard drives. On any number of flash drives. On a half a dozen cloud services. Still in the cameras themselves waiting to be downloaded to one of the aforementioned places. And almost without exception never fully and truly backed up anywhere.

I envision this service would be pretty basic. I could indicate what machines were “mine” and set rules for what I wanted it to do with any and all photos. I could connect up any device to any of these machines and it would automatically pull photos from them, and sync them across my personal photo network. I could set up rules for how I wanted photos from different devices treated (for example to set up separate places to send pictures from the kids cameras, but have the two cameras my wife and I use merged; or send video to a certain place and pictures somewhere else. Maybe there’d be cloud storage involved. Ideally I could use my PogoPlug to create my own cloud for these digital assets. Obviously there would be backup involved (mirroring PogoPlugs would be easy; cloud back-up easy as well). The service would give me the option to access my photos on my mobile phone (and a great interface to do so – something fitting such a visual media) and enable me to specify a small number of pictures I wanted cached locally on the phone and grab everything else off the phone so I didn’t have thousands of photos clogging up my camera roll.

We’ve invested in a few companies who have some great technology that could be put against this problem (specifically Cloud Engines which is how I manage my photos and back-up now and Memeo which can recognize different kinds of digital assets and route them to various places for you) but what I’m talking about is a layer above this – the control tower for all this.

And I’d bet it wouldn’t cost $41M to build…


  • Dead on. That is a real problem I’d pay good money to have solved for myself. Managing photos and video is such a mess.nnAnd my wife is so nervous about it – because of her friend who had an external hard disk die and lost five years of memories – that I just had to buy a second external hard disk, back it up, and TAKE IT TO THE BANK for the safe deposit box.nnOf course, 30 seconds later, she took a photo and the safe deposit box is now out of date.nnPS: Nobody needs $41 million to build something on the web. The only startup I can think of that needs $41 million is a friggin airline.

  • Andy

    So Seth, you’re in the business of investing in ideas – or new companies with ideas. Why not get more specific and ask for biz plans for this technology? You could help solve the problem…..

  • This is why all of my photos have always lived on my own computers. Most recently, I reimplemented my photo album in couchdb which gets replicated all over the place. Important photos pretty much always live in something like four places.nnIt’s trivial to add replicas and the bulk of them are actually fully functional, editable instances whose changes make it back to all of the rest of them.nnThe first half of my “dropbox as a job queue” blog post discusses that part, and how I use the dropbox app to get photos into that application from anything with dropbox support. http://dustin.github.com/2011/02/27/dropbox-queue.html

  • Anonymous

    Amen.nnMy wife and I do a rather manual sharing of photo’s half a dozen times a year or so.nnWhich is good because I had a terrific crash of my system and lost everything – which would have panicked me except for Carbonite. Except Carbonite had nothing but blank folders for a number of item. Nothing important – just “Pictures” and “Tax Returns” and ….nnSo backup would be good. Reliable backup would be better.nn-XCnnPS – Yes, I checked my Carbonite all the time – I used it on my iPhone to find things on the road. I just never checked every folder.

  • Petervandijck

    We’re doing this (but better), and we’re hiring. http://blog.getgush.com

    • thanks peter. look forward to hearing more. will follow up directly.

  • Is it *really* that big of a problem? We have dropbox for keeping your stuff in the cloud and a huge number of back up solutions. Last I checked, Flickr is still around pretty good at sharing photos. If you prefer some more inclusive, there is Picasa. The 50+ photos you took with your iPhone while drinking with friends are not as important as the photos you took at your wedding. The point being is that the use cases for “managing digital media” are too large to consider a single solution, partially because the expense going from one use pattern to the next is expensive. Just ask the photo enthusiast who had to migrate 50 GBs of photos from some Kodak site to a *real* photo management solution.nnBased on this (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/color_ceo_the_tech_justifies_the_41_million.php) it doesn’t seem like what Color is doing has anything to do with photos. It is just the example that may or may not stick.

    • indeed. it *really* is. the issue isn’t whether individual solutions forrnmuch (although not all) of what i wrote about exist. it’s that there’s notrnoverall control interface. sure – i can manually move all my pictures fromrnall my machines into a dropbox folder. and i can set up dropbox to back themrnup. and i can upload those that i want to share into flickr. and i can sortrnflickr into those i want to share with everyone vs. those that i just wantrnto share with family. and i can pull my many photos off my phone (which,rnlike many people, i use constantly for taking more impromptu photos – and asrna result have hundreds of great pictures and videos of my family on myrnphone). i think the very fact that the use cases are so broad is whatrnscreams out most for an overarching “traffic director” like interface. i’mrnnot suggesting anyone recreate dropbox, flickr, picassa, face recognitionrnsoftware, etc. just that they figure out a way to let users stitch togetherrnwhat they want to use in some meaningful, coherent way.

      • Thinkbiz

        You mean like a dropbox/sugarsync system for photos WITH a netflix-like recommendation system for what to keep on your phone, your computer, your long term storage?n

        • i don’t need a recommendation engine, just the air traffic control piece…rnrnseth

  • Absolutely agree – whilst all the images I shoot on my SLR are automatically uploaded to my computer and Flickr using and Eye-Fi card, I have fragmented collections of photos elsewhere – in iPhoto on the rare occasion I import my iPhone pic and in lots of other iPhone apps such as Instagram, Path, Hipstamatic which seem a lot more like data dead-ends. nnA lot of these apps have export facilities, so for instance I can send all my Instagram photo’s to Flickr, but usually its at least one more step of exporting and/or tagging before I get photos where I want them – be that an online service like Flickr or a desktop app like iPhoto.nnSomeone needs to solve this in an elegant way, since as more and more devices ship with cameras and apps, its just going to get worse. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Apple with their rumored MediaStream to unify the flow of photos from iOS applications, sharing them to common destinations – that alone would go a long way toward solving this problem.

  • Anonymous

    With all the well deserved hype around such a round, I think this post and comments misses what Color.com is about, that and it’s awful first iteration. Working with photos is not what it’s about, it’s more of a visual connection between people through photos, specifically first at bigger events. Instead of text and manual connections, the visuals – which are driving all social media via photos and videos – are building a social network that just happens because people are around them, you don’t have to manually add friends or find them – it’s location and visuals developing common interest, and a social network driven my smartphones, not the Net, which I think is its advantage.nnThis is strictly as someone looking at the space, and having attended a Namesake conversation with Peter Pham, I see that it’s more about mapping human activity based on visual experience, what they call an implicit social network that develops around your location and what you see, and connects people through geo location and visuals..it’s the visuals that makes it interesting to me. nnReally the investment was in the team and the idea, Bill Nguyen primarily and Peter Pham is pretty awesome as well, and the development of a social network on the new mobile/tablet platforms. While I’m not drinking the kool aid, I think most people are missing it by focusing on the photos, and that the initial app is just so basic. Decent interview here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WGdwY6h5JI&feature=youtu.bennSince it is based on your phone, the spam problem is gone, because you break the rules, you have to get a new phone to get relisted, which makes the spam attacks of social networks less of a problem as well. And what they see and where they are is the connecting point, which is what makes it interesting for me.nnI’m interested in seeing what it evolves to, even with that crazy funding, came here because I’m meeting at AdTech with Jeremy Bloom of Integrate and being an ex boulderite, interested in the things you all are doing. Just think the photo angle is a limited view of this visionary product, which means it could flop because visions are tough to make reality, but this thing has a smart team behind it, so far….

    • I think you took my post a little too literally (at least the title). Irnwasn’t commenting on what Color is doing – just being a little filp about itrnand using it as a springboard to post about a larger problem with mediarnmanagement. That said, I’m not as enamored about what Color is doing as yournappear to be. Social networks around “place” have been around for severalrnyears now (FourSquare for sure, but also companies like BrightTag who arerncreating more transient “networks” that come and go). It’s not that thosernare perfect (far from it) nor that it’s not an interesting problem, or thatrnColor might be able to figure out a more compelling service with futurernversions of it’s product. It’s just that everyone is running around wowedrnabout the money Color raised (by definition too much) and how great the teamrnis (certainly seasoned – not sure that justifies $41m) and how exciting thernproduct is (which we both seem to agree it is not)…rnrnAppreciate the thoughtful comment.rnrnseth