Instagram vs. Path vs. Color: The Battle for the Future of Mobile Social Networking

Instagram, Path and Color are three high-profile apps taking three different approaches to mobile social networking. Can all three co-exist? You may think that these three apps have totally different purposes and do totally different things, but in reality they tackle the same problem: how do you better connect and share with your friends through mobile? Instagram‘s thesis is simple: photo-sharing is the central component to the social and mobile experience. It is the undisputed king of photo-sharing apps, and it reached the top of the pile with a team of less than 10. Instagram has more than 15 million users. Path, co-founded by Facebook legend Dave Morin (he co-invented Facebook Connect and the Facebook Platform), is about intimate social networking. It’s a “smart journal” that lets you share photos, videos, status updates and locations with up to 150 of your closest friends and family. You can even share when you wake up and when you fall asleep. Its initial launch was a dud, but its recent launch has been gaining traction. Color, co-founded by Lala and Onebox co-founder Bill Nguyen, was once about mobile photo-sharing through dynamically-created “elastic networks” — essentially it shared photos with whoever was nearby. It didn’t gain traction though, so Color went to the drawing board and reemerged as an app that lets you “visit” your friends through short video streams. Unlike Path or Instagram, Color’s entire social graph is built on top of Facebook. The new version of Color hasn’t caught on like Path or Instagram have, but it’s early in the game.

Three Approaches to Mobile + Social

To be clear: Instagram, Path and Color focus on different things. Instagram focuses on photography, Path focuses on intimate social networks, and Color focuses on “visits” and enhancing the Facebook experience for mobile. However, I think they are converging. I feel as if Path, Instagram and Color started out on different paths, but have merged to become competitors. All three apps allow me to share photos, not just with friends and followers, but with my Facebook friends (Path and Instagram also support Twitter, Foursquare and Tumblr). Path even added the photo filters that made Instagram into the powerhouse it is today. If I share a photo on Path, am I also going to share it on Instagram or Color? If I record a video stream on Color, am I also going to put that on Path? For me, the answer is no. The overlap is just too much. I suspect this phenomenon is just specific to me; who really has the patience to share stuff through three different apps?

Final Thoughts

The future of mobile social networking is up for grabs. Facebook may be the iPhone’s most popular app, but it essentially ports the Facebook experience to mobile (the app is also horrendously slow and painful to use — that’s an article for another day, though). Instagram, Path and Color are experiments in the best way to utilize the unique capabilities of the phone to enhance social networking. The smartphone’s camera, GPS, accelerometer, touchscreen interface, notifications and persistence (it’s always in your pocket) makes it an ideal tool for sharing your world with friends. Some point soon, though, the experimenting will end and a victor will emerge. I simply don’t believe there is enough room for all three apps, despite the different approaches they take to mobile social networking. There are going to be a lot more pivots, challengers and forgotten apps by the time this battle is done. What are your thoughts on the future of mobile social networking? Is there enough room for everybody? Let me know in the comments.
  • Hedi Smida

    Ben, I couldn’t agree more. As a matter of fact, I was just asking few days ago Dave Morin if someway somehow an Instagram Api integration for Path was on scheduled. It’s just to long and painful to share with all the network. Reading at your paper made me realize :”not going to happen”. 

    Facebook already lost the mobile battle with its awfully slow app whereas Path already took over my mobile sharing experience. The process feels almost natural and give the user two more level of intimacy : myself and my very close network, while still giving me the opportunity to share publicly. That’s a true improvement !

    Btw, how’s going the photo-sharing new shining startup of yours ? =)

  • Ulysses King

    Think Path and Instagram will live on, not so sure about Color.  On Instagram I follow celebrities as well as my friends.  It’s about entertainment value.  I use Path for moments I want to share only with close friends and family.  When I put a pic on both Path and Instagram, it’s because I think it’s such an awesome pic that I want more people to see it than just a small group.  That’s just me though.

  • Troy Muir

    Similar to Apple taking the best Apps and integrating them into iOS or straight buying them out… the same will occur with Facebook and Twitter to a lesser extent. 
    FB owns the social graph now (or at least the lions share), trying to create a new place for ppl to be is not solving a consumers problem, but creating one.

  • Knightopia

    Sounds to me like Color is setting itself up for a buy-out by Facebook. Path has potential, and Instagram is still interesting. I think you’re right, though, more contenders will join the fray before this all said and done. And Facebook will probably improve their own mobile app experience to become the victor in the end. But we shall see …

  • Pundit

    Well, it is something we can see in every social network. A great feature comes out, and every social network adopts it.

    Just like USSR and USA were converging during the cold war.

    But what matters is how users conceive them, rather than what you can do with those… 

  • Vlad Gidea

    Why do you assume these are the only players in the game? Color is under a new form now but that doesn’t mean it’s going to have a future. Let’s all remember all the buzz around it when it launched and the fact that no one knew what it’s supposed to do. You would just open the app and stare blankly at it. Instagram is just an app to take photos with some cool effects and share it. Not that much value for this type of content created by the users. It doesn’t archive them in an intelligent way or it doesn’t seem like something useful to share .

    New players are still figuring out what is the relation between what people actually want to do on their smartphone and what they need to do. I’ve seen some very cool apps that allow you to save a location but not foursquare-like. You do know about Oink which seems interesting to say the least but there are other apps like Everplaces that are on the right track.

    You can’t really put a finger still on mobile social networking because we don’t have all the players on the field. My 2cents.

  • Steven Cutbirth

    I have recently become addicted to Path. I downloaded it a while ago when they first released and quickly deleted, but now that the new version is out I love it. The design and user experience are amazing! I also really like the page it posts to facebook and twitter. great design. 

    Instagram is great too but I have found myself turning to Path over instagram more and more. This may just be because Path still has that new toy feel…

    I agree about the facebook app. I cant stand it, yet I still use it daily because its the best option for facebook on the iphone. 

  • Jeanvincent

    What about via me?