Highlight app: Ubiquity trumps privacy
This week's coverage of SXSW 2012 in Austin, Texas, is provided by Next Issue Media.
I met up with Paul Davison, founder of startup Highlight, in a badly lit backroom of one the many parties at SXSW. Davidson's iPhone app, also called Highlight, received a lot of hype leading up to SXSW, thanks in part to Robert Scoble's stamp of approval, and the app was indeed the "highlight" of SXSW (pun intended).
When installed on your iPhone, Highlight runs in the background and automatically notifies you about people around you.
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"You're going to be able to walk into a room, and look around, and whenever you see someone, you'll know their name, you'll know where they work, what friends you have in common with them," said Davison. "You'll have something that surfaces the more interesting connections, like that woman over there knows your mother, and that guy over there went to your high school the year before you, and that girl likes the same obscure authors that you like. It's just going to be like a sixth sense that we all have."
The technology is finally available to make an app like Highlight possible: advanced location technology, ubiquitous Facebook identity systems, and better battery life in smartphones.
"We just now have background location and push notifications, and all these things that were never before possible, so I think the time is right for things in the space to start to gain a lot of traction," Davison explained.
Davison has learned from other successful startups and is focused on keeping Highlight simple.
"We try to take that one core experience and make it beautiful and perfect and something that people love and makes their day better, makes them happier and makes the world a smaller friendlier place," he said.
Highlight lets you literally see exactly where you and other Highlight users are in real time, which naturally raises concerns about user privacy. But Davison is undeterred.
"Over time norms have evolved and more people decide whether the social benefits of participating in this new thing outweigh the cost of the additional privacy that they are giving up."
Check out the full video here. Forgive the bad lighting and the occasional interference from a cell phone (most likely it was Highlight working overtime in Davison's pocket).
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