Each year at South by Southwest, people are eagerly trying to figure out what the next big thing will be. After all, it was here where Twitter first got started and noticed. Then it was Foursquare versus Gowalla, group texting darlings Beluga, GroupMe, and TextPlus, and now tech influencers and journalists are pretty much calling what the next big application everyone will want to download is at this year’s show. So what’s the one application that will be the “it” thing? The word is that it’ll be this cool iPhone application called Highlight and its location-based service will enable people to discover others around them easily and with enough information to properly stalk them.
This isn’t the first time that Highlight has been introduced to the world. Earlier this year, publications like Mashable, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, VentureBeat, and Technologizer all reviewed the service–only now is it finally gaining significant traction. Why? Probably because there is critical mass in light of the thousands of technology enthusiasts converging on Austin and it would be a great case study to see whether the service. The location-based wars are back, people…and it looks like the offspring of Foursquares will battle it out for supremacy. On one corner, you have a similar service that’ll work on both the Android and iOS platform called Glancee with probably more filtered controls. On the other one you have what TechCrunch’s Eric Eldon is betting the farm on, Highlight.
So what’s so special about Highlight? Well with over 20,000 users as of a couple weeks ago, they have a clear goal about how to use check-ins and location services to make meeting people much more significant and valuable instead of uber stalker’ish. As founder Paul Davidson said earlier this week, “We want Highlight to make Austin even more fun for you – by surprising you with hidden connections, surfacing information about the people you meet, and helping you remember these people when you bump into them at a random New York coffee shop a year later.” What this will mean for the community is that not only will you find you’ll meet new people, but you can also part ways from SXSW and have that little keepsake memory item that you can reference when you work on fostering the relationship.
But here’s how Highlight can help you improve your network skills at SXSW this year–all without crashing the private parties uninvited and making awkward small talk just to get the attention of an influencer, investor, or person you really want to meet. Everyone at SXSW who has Highlight installed with have it enabled allowing you to simply walk around the city to find them. What the application will do is alert you that you’re near someone. The information you’ll be shown about any particular individual is their name, mutual friends, photos, and anything else that wish to share–almost like a location-based Facebook profile. Highlight will help you see what you have in common with them so that you can strike up a chord with that person so you won’t have that short conversation where you can’t make any real connection. But then, later on, the service will help you remember their names as well!
So instead of simply knowing where someone is, you’re going to be able to get a bit more background–Highlight does all the stalking for you! As TechCrunch puts it: business cards would be dead. Forget stuffing your pockets full of cardboard at a party, going back home, throwing them on your hotel room dresser as you pass out, and forgetting them when you have to rush out the next morning to catch your flight. You’d just mark the people you want to stay connected to right when you meet them, and then at your convenience connect with them later.
From a safety standpoint, it doesn’t seem clear yet whether Highlight will only give you several close levels of friendship–your friends and “friends of friends”. You might think that this isn’t important, but while getting to know where people are and having their information handy is great, the problem can also be knowing where people are. Location is a double-edged sword, my friend. Alexia Tsotsis wrote a post raising this concern where she hoped that there was some sort of filtering control where you could only see where your friends are, not your “friends of friends”. And for females, especially, revealing one’s location through any public service like Highlight can have unintended (and maybe dangerous) consequences. I’m sure that the folks at Highlight are consciously thinking about this. In fact, Mr. Davidson told Ms. Tsotsis that privacy is a critical concern of theirs: “Having people’s trust is so critical for this sort of thing. We want to build something women can use and feel safe on. If you build this product the right way you can build something that will be really useful.”
Whether it’s your goal to meet an investor, interesting startups, great people, or those with a high Klout score, make sure you check out Highlight–SXSW will be an interesting test case for the service and whether people can actually make more network connections than if they didn’t have the app. Either way, location-based stalking is cool again*.
Here’s a video by Robert Scoble interviewing Highlight’s Mr. Davidson about the service: