In 2009, Foursquare exploded onto the tech scene after it made waves at SXSW by providing attendees a fun and useful way to coordinate with friends as they bounced from place to place in downtown Austin.
This spawned a fascination with location-based services (LBS) that saturated the industry for the following couple of years. After seeing countless LBS start-ups make their way into the spotlight, most people in the marketing, advertising and technology worlds seemed to think they understood the category and that it was time to move on to the next thing.
They couldn’t be more wrong. LBS check-ins are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how location information can be harnessed to enhance people’s lives.
The Next Wave of LBS
Facebook seems to know this. The social media juggernaut evolved their Places platform, which allowed Facebook users to check-in to restaurants, businesses and other locations, turning it into a feature set that is now integrated with their photo, status, event and other tools. So instead of just “checking in” to say “look where I am”, users enhance content they are already providing by adding location information to it.
The other problem is that Foursquare diverted everyone’s attention to “gamification” and industry folks focused on it as one of the big takeaways from Foursquare’s success. Now I won’t go into why Foursquare is the poster child for poorly designed gamification, but you can read about that in my article on the topic from last year.
For this conversation, the pertinent issue is that the most important part of the service has been somewhat overlooked. Foursquare’s biggest strength is the social utility it provides by knowing where your friends are, which in turn allows you to meet up with them on the fly or discuss things they shared while they were out.
So while Foursquare was the darling of SXSW in 2009, this year’s breakout app demonstrates what Foursquare could and should have become in the interim.
And The “Best in Show” Award Goes To…
Highlight is a mobile app that connects to your social networks and lets you know when anyone you are linked with is nearby. It runs passively in the background and alerts you when it finds a connection.
By using your existing social networks to generate a list of who you’d be interested in seeing, Highlight is positioning their app to scale very quickly. They are pairing an impressive, helpful and innovative experience with a set of features that makes it almost effortless to leverage your existing social accounts. By providing strong and unique value and making it dead simple to get started, they are maximizing their chances of reaching a mainstream audience. And as with most social platforms, reaching a wide audience will be key to Highlight’s success.
User Base is King
Facebook is practically a required element of a social life these days and the reason is that everyone we know is on it. It’s the de facto venue for party planning, photo sharing and keeping in touch with old friends.
Highlight will be in a similar position if they can reach a critical mass of users. Once most of my friends are on the service, I have to use it too, or risk being left out of social events and spontaneous plans.
It doesn’t hurt that the service is impeccably designed, either.
Once Highlight is up and running, it’s truly an effortless experience. You don’t have to remember to check-in where you go, nor do you have to pull out your phone to monitor activity within the app.
Simply keep your phone our pocket and go about your business (or pleasure). Highlight will let you know when a friend or acquaintance is close by. Or you can pull the app up and read about people nearby you that have chosen to make their information public. Highlight will still automatically curate this information, showing you the people and facts that are most likely to be of interest to you.
Highlight Mania Sweeps the Nation
I expect to see Highlight grow quickly in the wake of its exposure at SXSW this year. It is fairly common for a new and interesting app to be widely used by attendees of the conference. These attendees often go back to their respective cities and convince their influential, tech-savvy friends to try the great new apps they learned about at SXSW. This is how Foursquare was thrust into the mainstream. Beluga too.
Add to that the fact that this app represents a style of interaction that has far greater potential than either of the aforementioned apps and the odds start to look very good that we’re going to see and hear a lot more about Highlight in the coming weeks and months.
Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with Highlight now. Then you’ll be the office expert on the service when everyone else is talking about it in a month or two.
Greg Steen, 03.14.2012