Ambient location app Highlight is a big deal. Eldon likes it, Scoble likes it, MG and Mike like it and Grindr fan Charlie Cheever likes it. More importantly, I like it.
Before you call me out for being slightly narcissistic with the above statement (which wouldn’t make me at all unique in my field), here’s why the fact that I like it is important; In case you haven’t noticed, I am a female, which means I am an indicative use case for an app that forces you to constantly broadcast your location.
The premise behind services like Highlight and Glancee is that humans are desperate to connect with one another on a multitude of levels. Why not make it easier for them if we have the technology? As one of my VC friends rudely put it, when I expressed my love for the app, “Seems like a fad, but if it gets people laid then it’s huge.”
I’m pretty sure this is going to need females on it to go beyond Grindr and get a critical mass of people laid.
The issue with females is that we’re sensitive with regards to dudes contacting us about getting laid, hence being cautious about letting people know where we are at any given moment (I’m coming to this conclusion based on anecdotal information). Because there are serious, real world implications to being carelessly open with that sort of stuff.
Highlight had 20K users when I last spoke to founder Paul Davison a couple of weeks ago. In about a week, that number will likely exponentially increase, as people in Austin download what we’ve already touted as THE BIGGEST APP AT SXSW.
As I prepare for the coming week, I realize if Highlight doesn’t create some sort of “Only Friends” filter, and thus blocking “Friends of Friends” as well as people you have Likes in common with from seeing your location, Texas is going to be a shitshow. For example, thanks to Highlight I now know that Evan Williams and MG Siegler are both a block away from me for some reason. Imagine if I were a crazy startup founder
weren’t “so over” talking to tech celebrities … I would totally change out of my pajamas and try to intercept them somehow.
I’m willing to bet that the above hypothetical is going to play out a thousand times in Austin unless Highlight fixes it so I can only see MG (who is my friend on Facebook and in real life) and not Ev.
Judging from the reactions I’m getting when I try to explain to Normals what Highlight does (“Omg IT LETS PEOPLE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?!?!?”), mainstream society isn’t ready for it as it stands now. If things work out as founder Paul Davison envisions, one day Moms will be cool with lightweight actions like letting their friends know if they were both at the same party, but for now many are apprehensive.
“Privacy is so critical,” Davison told me in an interview, “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.”
In my opinion, the “right sort of way” means allowing users to limit the app to “Friends.” Highlight is winning because unlike services like Sonar you don’t have to check in, but if its default inclusivity isn’t tempered in the next week, it will serve as a fatal flaw when we all get to early adopter Austin.
I can just imagine the stacks of Highlight messages from PR People now …
“We’re still working on basic throttling,” Davison tells me. “Tiny changes in the product have a profound impact [no kidding!] … If you do this the right way it just makes people better. It’s really hard to get it right, but if you get it right, it’s hard for me to think of something more important to be building. You’re literally giving the world a sixth sense.”
Good luck Paul.