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.