Have Arrington and Conway screwed up big time with their investment in Highlight?

Paul Davison, left, shows off a stealth app at a SF geek party

Tonight I’m getting message after message that friend after friend has joined Highlight (the photo above is of Paul Davison showing it off to some of its first users back in December on the day it launched into a closed beta). What is Highlight? Well, two weeks ago, in the Next Web, I named it as one of two apps that will “win” SXSW.

What is it? It’s one of a new band of companies trying to own the “real time people discovery space.” Crunchbase says Highlight is a mobile ambient awareness app. I believe we’ll see lots more of these kinds of apps over the next few years and, even, Google is rumored to be building new kind of wearable monitors to use apps like these.

Just for completeness, the competitors are Glancee, Kismet, Sonar, and Ban.jo with more coming this week (by the end of the week I’ll write up a more complete analysis of the competitors, since most of these companies, including Highlight, will ship major updates to their apps this week — I’m sure I won’t be the only one, either, given the attention these things are getting).

Why? Well, it has been picked by not just me as the “SXSW hotness” but also by Mashable, by Techcrunch, and others. Mashable’s founder, Pete Cashmore, in an article on CNN, named it “Scariest Tech Trend.” Mike Arrington and Ron Conway liked it so much (or their fund partners did, anyway) that they invested in it. Or, more accurately, their funds SV Angel (CrunchBase entry for SV Angel) and CrunchFund (CrunchBase’s entry for CrunchFund) did, along with Benchmark Capital (CrunchBase’s entry for Benchmark).

So, let’s dig into the hype and anti-hype and see if Ron Conway and Mike Arrington are going to either lose all their money or have just backed the next big thing?

There are a bunch of different ways to look at this:

1. Virality coefficient. How often is the user base doubling? How likely is it to keep doubling? (I was at the first party that Highlight was shown off at, back in December. I saw it go through almost an entire party in just an hour the virality coefficient was so high. It made such an impression on me that I even shot a photo of Paul showing it off.
2. Competitive pressures. Will a competitor kick their behind unexpectedly? Will philosophical choices its founders make derail it the way Gowalla was derailed by choices its founders made?) How is it differentiated?
3. Market window optimization. In this case, this kind of app will only do well in three places: San Francisco, New York, and SXSW. That means that if they don’t rock and roll at SXSW and their competitors do they will be at a HUGE disadvantage. Brian Solis (analyst and social media guru at Altimeter Group) just told me he’s picked Highlight as the app he’s going to use at SXSW. Many others are saying the same thing.
4. Haters. All good products have haters. Remember when Woz and Jobs started the PC business? Their bosses thought they were nuts. Even one of their co-founders thought they were nuts (he quit Apple after a few days and sold his share for a very small amount of money). Every good consumer technology has haters. Every single one. It’s a precondition.
5. Smartness of entrepreneur. I’ve spent time with almost all the entrepreneurs who are doing companies in this space and Paul has made a huge impression on me. So much so that I cancelled one evening of parties just to spend four hours with him at his offices in San Francisco one evening to get a better sense of what he is doing that the other entrepreneurs aren’t. This is an intangible that’s hard to describe, but I’ll try to in the rest of this blog.

I’ve been using these apps for a while now, and here’s how they will be judged. In other words, here’s how we’ll be able to track if Arrington and Conway screwed up by investing in Highlight. Others will announce funding this week, I’m hearing, by other investors. Two $64,000 questions for the investors:

1. Will this category keep doubling in users? I think it will. I’ll try to explain why later.
2. Will Highlight (or one of its competitors) dominate in such a way that it gets rid of all of the other competitors? I think so, more later as we dive into what I’m already seeing happen.

Some things. You might say it’s too early for me to call the game. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I’ve watched consumer apps on the Internet compete for quite some time (Israeli investor Yossi Vardi says I was the first person to have a website about ICQ back in 1996, for instance, and that was the hottest new consumer app of that year. It eventually sold to AOL for about $400 million — it had competitors, including one from Microsoft but because it was doubling in users every few days the others could never catch up. I predict that’s already happening in Highlight’s case).

Have you ever thought about a doubling penny. You know, today you have one penny, tomorrow, two, the day after that, four, and so on and so forth? I have. It’s how these things work. The first app to double 27 times wins the lottery. Everyone after that will seem lame in comparison. That’s true whether you are looking at Twitter (it had competitors), Facebook (it had competitors), Pinterest (it has competitors already), GroupOn (it has dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors). The first one to double and get into that “exponential growth area” wins. Period. It’s really hard to overtake the market leader once it has even a few “doubles” of lead.

It is especially true when you consider that users aren’t all the same. For instance, once you get someone like Dave McClure to join your service (he joined Highlight today) that matters a lot more than if someone who isn’t a well connected tech influencer in Silicon Valley joins). Just the facts of life. Twitter took off after Leo Laporte started talking about it (he’s on Glancee, by the way, which I noticed when I drove by Leo’s house in Petaluma last night — we were attending my son’s play at Petaluma High School. That makes sense cause Glancee is on Android and Leo is an Android fan. More on platform choices later, that could be one way that Arrington and Conway have screwed up).

So, let’s take on the five ways these apps will be judged by the marketplace.

Virality. I’m watching all of these apps in a very specific market: San Francisco. In my experience if you do not win San Francisco’s geeks you won’t win the world-wide marketplace. This is true of nearly every interesting consumer app that’s come along lately, and explains why even Spotify, which was started in Europe, handed out beta codes to lots of San Francisco insiders nearly two years before it launched in the United States. In this case Highlight is winning. It is spreading faster, and quicker, through the influential San Francisco crowd than any of its competitors are. Now, I’m sure that Banjo and Sonar will cry that I’m forgetting about them. No, I’m not. Those two aren’t really the same kind of app that Glancee and Highlight are and, anyway, those two are NOT getting the insiders excited and are NOT seeing growth that Highlight is amongst the insiders I track. They do have more users (about 600,000 vs. about 20,000) but Highlight is doubling a lot faster and is getting everyone energized. There’s a whole bunch of reasons for that that I’ll go into in a sec.

Competition. Here I look at the philosphy of each product. Sonar, for instance, shows you a list of every place near you and shows you how many people have checked in on Foursquare at each place. Useful, but not nearly as useful as Highlight. The reason I called Brian Solis tonight, for instance, is because one of his checkins were shown on both Sonar and Banjo. The problem was that he was back home. This does not happen on Highlight since Highlight ONLY shows me when someone is within 50 yards of me and only in real time. Also, Highlight shows a little map of where I was when I crossed paths with someone, which again verifies what time and what place we were at. This is a HUGE differentiator. Compare to Kismet and Glancee. They feel that people will be freaked out by seeing where they met someone. In my experience they have made the wrong philosophical choice in order to cowtow to perceived market “freakedness.” Here’s the thing these entrepreneurs didn’t count on: users will change their behavior if they are given something in return. They will, gasp, even choose to do something “freaky.”

In Kismet, and Banjo’s case, they show people who have explicitly checked in, either on their service, or on Foursquare, in Banjo’s case. But this is actually more stalkerish than the “scarier” Highlight. Think about it. If you are a woman and are scared about being stalked by someone, Highlight only shows you to people who are already within 50 yards. The others show you to people miles away who might all of a sudden start “following” you online. It’s amazing how easy it is, by the way, to follow someone and figure out where they are by what they Tweet, Foursquare, Facebook, or put on services like Foodspotting or Yelp.

Highlight, even though it “seems” more “freaky” when you first hear about it, is the least freaky of the group. After spending time with Paul Davison, I got why: he spent a lot of time making sure that women feel comfortable on the service. Indeed I’m seeing quite a good percentage of women on the service and the ones I’ve asked say they enjoy it so far. Techcrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis backs this up, too, by saying “I like it” even while writing some feedback about how it could be made less freaky.

It is my experience that Highlight is beating the competition EXCEPT in one way: cross platform availability. Android users are pissed that Highlight isn’t available to them and are pushing Glancee, which is available on both iOS and Android. The problem for me is that Glancee is SLOW to startup. On Friday I was out to dinner with ShowYou’s CEO, Mark Hall. I started both apps up from a cold start. Highlight started in 1.5 seconds. Glancee took 15 seconds. This dramatically makes me dislike Glancee. To be fair, though, Glancee says they are shipping an update that will improve this tomorrow. I’ll test it out again then.

Glancee, though, doesn’t have the same feed features that Highlight does (Highlight keeps track of where you met someone, how often you met them, and WHERE you met them. I believe the three together put into a feed that you can scroll all the way back through is a KILLER FEATURE and one that the others are totally missing).

That said, everything I write tonight about the competition will probably change this week. At least one competitor is coming out with a killer feature of its own (I can’t talk or reevaluate the field until that competitor ships later this week — although I still believe Highlight will be ahead, even then).

Market window optimization. This one is a tough one. It means that there’s only a small “window” for competitors in a new field to launch effectively. Why is that? Because once networks of people decide to use one app, the competitors will never be able to “break those users free from the network lockin effect” and move them somewhere else. We saw this with Twitter. Lots of other competitors came along, many with better features, but because the users had decided to use Twitter it just was impossible to move them all to a new system. This will happen BIG TIME with this kind of app. Once I start using Highlight, and so do all my friends, there’s no way I’m going to move somewhere else unless you also move all my friends first. THAT is a HUGE amount of lockin and that lockin is happening in a MAJOR way with Highlight right now, at least amongst the San Francisco tech crowd. Now, in the past that crowd has predicted mainstream success later on. If you say it doesn’t matter what the cool kids in San Francisco have chosen, then you have a HUGE burden of proof to convince us of your point. Yes, you can point to some cases where the geeks didn’t matter. Pinterest. GroupOn are two. But they are hardly the kind of broad-based consumer things that Highlight and Glancee are. So, you’ll have to work extra hard to convince me that you can win, say, in Kansas without winning San Francisco first and that you can keep Kansas from switching. Remember, people used to say “Orkut is big in Brazil and Facebook isn’t.” I said that didn’t matter and I was right. Eventually Facebook got everyone to switch because even Brazilians have friends other places and the network effect of the rest of the world was too powerful to resist. Unless you have a firewall like China and Iran do. I bet that Facebook would take over those two countries within 18 months too, if the firewalls were removed.

That said, this group of apps will be decided in the next 18 days. Really they will be decided on by Friday and I can now make a good case that the prize has already been decided. That’s just the way the world works. It’s also why I say you shouldn’t launch at SXSW (read my advice on Quora for companies thinking of doing something so stupid). Highlight and Glancee both were out in the marketplace weeks ago. They followed my advice and are the leading ones in this new field because of it. Market windows are very important to pay attention to. You couldn’t launch a Windows XP app today, for instance, and get anyone to care about it. Launch a Windows 8 app, though, and everyone will check it out. Launch the same app in a year, though, and it’ll be a lot tougher to get anyone to care. This is why so many startups, from Flipboard to ShowYou are working long hours to get their apps ready for the iPad 3 right now and its high resolution screen. They know that if they are out in the first week after Wednesday’s Apple announcements that they will get lots of users. Announce three months from now? No one will care. Market window optimization is HUGELY important for entrepreneurs. Highlight is doing the best job here.

Haters? Oh, this whole category has them in DROVES. It’s actually the strongest evidence that there’s something to this category. Anytime haters come out of the woodwork it tells me that I should care about the category. This has been true for every single big paradigm shift I’ve been alive for. I still remember my coworkers telling me “why should I use email?” Or my fellow students at SJSU telling me that mice and windows were for kids who couldn’t use real computers. Or the folks who told me that instant messaging would never be used for “real business.” Or the folks who told me that Twitter was lame.

What should we watch when we see haters? Look for the doubling effect and look to make sure that the users are staying addicted. The stats on Highlight are so off the charts that Paul told me he doesn’t even believe his own server logs. I can tell you why: people are keeping this app on, and are damn addicted to it. Why? Because we like finding new things about the people who are around us.

Now, am I missing anything? Yes, there are lots of risks. What are they?

1. The doubling effect might stop for some reason. For instance, let’s say we all get home from SXSW and decide that these apps are just really lame, well, then the doubling effect will stop. If this happens you all will make fun of me and then we’ll go on with our lives looking for the next big consumer trend in tech, but it’ll mean that Conway and Arrington will be out their investment. SOme other reasons this might happen? If someone gets hurt because of these apps. If legislation gets passed that prevents these apps from working. If Facebook or Google start to really compete with these apps (I don’t believe they can, because their users won’t trust them with this kind of passive-sharing of location, at least not immediately. Keep an eye on Facebook’s Open Graph set of technologies, though, and they are the biggest competitor here. Zuckerberg has proven he’ll do things that freak out his users, as long as he sees the data that they will eventually be addicted anyway).

2. That these apps might get popular but might not be monetizable. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean that you can sell ads on it. Look at Chatroulette. Very popular but now doesn’t matter. Why? It had penises on it and advertisers stayed away.

3. Something even cooler and better might come along. Google is working on some glasses that will show stuff in real time about the world around you. If Google got very aggressive with this kind of stuff it might do something that is very popular and takes the oxygen away from these apps.

4. The category could get bought and shut down by competitors. Facebook, after its IPO, might buy these.

5. The “host” (in this case, Facebook, which Highlight and Glancee rely on) might shut down this category due to some reason like regulation or PR pressure.

6. I might be reading the signals wrong. Maybe San Francisco really isn’t in charge of the consumer world anymore. If that’s the case, maybe this whole category doesn’t matter the way I think it does (and the way others think it does). That said, I’m seeing enough tech passionates around the world agreeing with me that I don’t think I’m reading the signals wrong.

Anyway, add all this together and I’ve come to the conclusion that Arrington and Conway have made a smart investment and have not screwed up big time. It’ll be interesting to see just how fast this category of services grows. I predict that a company in this field will be a multi-billion-dollar company in market cap within four years. I’m betting it’s Highlight, but who knows? That’s what makes this industry fun, the whole thing could change by Friday and probably will.

Do you agree or disagree?

By the way, hear about the two best companies so far in this field from the execs themselves:

Highlight’s founder talks to me about his app:

Glancee’s founder talks to me about this field.

By the way, I’ve been posting a lot of stuff about startups to my Google+ feed. If you aren’t following me there or on Twitter, you are missing out! That’s really where a lot of stuff gets shaken out and turned upside down. My blog will evolve as a place where I do longer thought pieces once in a while.

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. Awesome thought piece Scoble. The virality of the app is interesting…I wonder if it will hold true.  It seems that the novelty of it is carrying the viral coefficient today, but it may benefit from additional layers beyond just the “let me show you”. 

    Foursquare had the checkin…you would pull your phone out in front of others, in a public place, and check in.  People would ask you what you were doing, and you would explain what you were dong and why you did it to the people around you. Additionally, you then posted badges to your wall, so that those who weren’t with you at the restaurant still saw that you were playing this neat new game called foursquare. Not sure highlight has that same function figured out quite yet, but when they do figure it out – it’ll have a solid chance at crossing the chasm. 

    1. Not sure how thought provoking this piece was to be honest. Lots of hype around a technology, but not necessarily about any future vision or mass market adoption principles. I am comparing this to Augmented Reality apps of 2010 http://tekcrunch.posterous.com/hype

  2. This is why Arrington invested. He’s been looking for this since 2007 – http://techcrunch.com/2007/09/11/the-holy-grail-for-mobile-social-networks/

  3. I saw my first Highlight experience with a friend’s iPhone in an SF restaurant.  It brought up several ‘strangers’, including some very attractive women in the immediate area.  My initial thought was what an exceptionally high creep factor.  However, the lemmings appear to be rapidly jumping in so it will be interesting to see if any backlash occurs.  Nice post.

    1. If you actually use it you’ll realize this isn’t creepy at all. Why?

      1. All those people are within 50 yards, so stalking behavior is kept down (you can’t follow any particular woman from place to place).

      2. Only people with Facebook friends in common are displayed to you. So, if you behave like a jerk your friends will hear about it, believe me. That “social pressure” will keep you in line. (this is also the same filter that many women use to “filter out” jerks. They ask their friends what they think, if you hadn’t figured that out yet).

      3. Other anti-creep stuff will show up in a new version, coming this week.

      1. I’d love to try it except for two things. I’m Android and I never open my Facebook feed to external apps.  Foursquare’s enough for me, at least for now.

        1. Yup, two strikes and you’re gone. Highlight will eventually get to Android (if it keeps doubling) but the Facebook requirement will always be there for lots of reasons. I won’t trust apps like this that don’t hook into Facebook, for instance.

          1. I doubt it. Highlight’s dev team is too small to deal with more than one platform. So is Glancee’s by the way, which is why Glancee is getting KILLED on speed.

          2. I gave feedback that I won’t use it if it only has Facebook login. But I know I’m in the minority. TripIt and LinkedIn would be more interesting (to me) — I see this as a good business tool. I already know who my friends are…

          3. I totally disagree. First of all these things do NOT put your Facebook info into public view. It only shows you likes you have in common with other people. These kinds of apps require an identity system that millions of people use. That’s Facebook. No other system will ever be able to build up enough likes to make this useful (and enough people). I’ve put about 600 likes into Facebook. This is invaluable when used in an app like Highlight.

            This kind of dependence will not only not stop, it will greatly expand based on what I’m seeing from developers. For instance, look at Etsy’s Gift Guide. That is mondo cool and relies on Facebook’s likes too.

          4. This is not about Facebook info.

            It’s how *I* choose to use Facebook — which is with real friends, privately. So, I am actively choosing to NOT perpetuate using Facebook as a general purpose identity system.

            I feel more comfortable publicly using Twitter or LinkedIn, which are public-by-default.You can disagree, but that’s MY feeling. I agree that the mass market have adopted Facebook, and so it’s the most logical for systems like this. Other systems like Path are working on the counter-notion that a smaller social graph may be more valuable.

          5. Again, you are mixing these two things up.

            It’s fine that you are using Facebook with real friends, privately. Highlight does NOT change that!

            Highlight only uses Facebook to see two things:

            1. Likes.
            2. Your social graph (which in your case will be ultra awesome because you didn’t add all sorts of social media wankers, like me, to it).

            It then only does one thing with those:

            1. It brings into your view people within 50 yards or so that have some likes OR some friends in common.

            That’s it. It doesn’t do anything else.

            It would totally fail if it tried to use Twitter or LinkedIn for this because most of us have polluted those graphs with other stuff.

          6. I don’t use Likes, and the public nature of Twitter or LinkedIn are the use cases that I can see being interesting to me.

            Otherwise, the app would be empty for me most of the time, since I’m trying to not be promiscuous with FB connections.No opinion on the mass market, they won’t use it for a while :P

            (and _unfortunately_, you ARE a friend, so I think you are in my graph :P)

            At the end of the day, I think letting people choose what type of experience they want to have by connecting different networks to it might make it work for everyone.

          7. By the way, this does NOT show you who your friends are. It shows you people you have something in common with and who are within 50 yards of you. Either people who have the same friends, or people who have same likes. This DEMANDS that Facebook be used! Anyone who says Facebook shouldn’t be used simply DOES NOT UNDERSTAND what either Facebook is now, or these kinds of people discovery apps.

          8. I “get it”, I just don’t like it.  I would love for Google to release G+ API so we could use that.
            I will keep it installed in hopes of an update.  It does seem promising, but I just don’t use Facebook.

          9. I am not on Facebook and many of the people I know are not. But I guess for many folks thats their life. I know enough people also who have closed their facebook accounts. I am not sure how sustainable these services are and are the people investing in it going to make a killing and then walk away leaving the late entrants to be the suckers.

  4. These kind of app are not useful day to day, it may get popular during events like SXSW and later may not be as useful, it probably works great in SF and major cities, I’ve tried it in Portland and did not think it is as impressive. Definitely dont think it will be the next billion dollar startup. 

    Also the technology to build these apps are not hard at all, it just uses exciting APIs. I built a similar app over a weekend couple years ago that will help you find where people are hanging out in any city and check their facebook/twitter, its not a startup but just a mashup. Check out http://misotrendy.com , its also mobile optimized.

    1. You are wrong. They are useful day to day in San Francisco. That said, they are less useful places that don’t have early adopters. Twitter was just this way too. It had all the SF cool kids as early users too and other places weren’t nearly as interesting.

      1. Sorry but Twitter is not the right comparison, Foursquare is. If you get out of the tech hubs of SF and NYC you would see the issue with these type of apps. I live in a big city that is not filled with early adopters and have had only three friends that are not in the tech scene join Foursquare in the last three years. I easily become mayor of most places with only a few check-ins because there is no competition. Foursquare is useful for recommendations when I visit SF or NYC though (and I think they see this trend as what they should focus on). Highlight will have the same issue I predict. 

        1. I travel a lot all over the world and I have always seen a lot of people checked in on Foursquare. The Tokyo Airport, for instance, is always swarming with hundreds of checkins. That said, this is quite different than Foursquare and a LOT more fun and useful around the clock. Foursquare is really only useful when you get someplace and want to learn about it.

  5. Facebook is not a good model for the “doubling leader” scenario.  In 2006 MySpace had 100 million users vs. Facebook’s 8 million.  Even Google’s Orkut had at the time 28 million users.  Yet Facebook leaped over both of them due to MySpace and Google’s management ineptitude plus shrewd adaptability/morphing strategy by Facebook.  I wrote a blog post about this http://bit.ly/w0PsnA 

    1. Facebook has consistently doubled ever since it kicked off at Harvard. But you do hit on one thing. Keeping things doubling is damn tough business. It’ll be interesting to watch if Paul Davison can build a company out of this, and not just an interesting technology/app. Building a company (Twitter has 600 employees, now, for instance) is a different skill than building something that gets all the SXSWi attendees hot and bothered.

    1. Now that is just plain creepy anti-social behaviour!

      You must have a very low neediness factor?

      There will soon be Apps to deal with people like you.

      Resistance is futile.

      All Borg recidivists will be assimilated.

      Push any process far enough and it will flip into its opposite, from being a tool into being an impediment. (McLuhan)

      Does that apply to social-networking ?

      ;-)

      1. 2008 was a very different time. There were many more Blackberry phones out there, today? Not so much, especially among the early adopter types.

  6. Very thoughtful post.  A lot to think about the future and the interplay between humankind’s thirst for in person connections versus the role of privacy.  As a woman, a mother, and someone just over the mainstream line, I believe it will be a while (if at all) this kind of thing goes mass.  Even check-ins, where one controls the information, are still in the single digit %s, aren’t they?  Right now, there are trends the other way — concerns about privacy and “de-facebooking” for example.  The “anti-creep” factor also relies on how clean your Facebook stream is and for most people, it’s not.  One other risk Robert you didn’t mention of this category going nowhere is if something bad happens…think MySpace and child porn.  But hey, like everyone else, I downloaded the app and will give it a shot at SXSW

    1. Yup, I thought I covered that with “if someone gets hurt.” 

      By the way, I still remember when people said this about Twitter. Folks forget it took Twitter about six months to get more than 15,000 users and back then everyone thought it was “lame” and a poor way to blog and, worse, encouraged too much wacky sharing of personal information. Who knew we all wanted to do that? Biz and Ev and Jack did.

  7. rock on!

    multi-level agreement & all the SLAs, from #NYC & beyond -smart piece for the Right price. Highlight should let me delete users w/out deleting from fB, tho.

    @courtneyBolton

  8. Great piece Robert. Another reason glancee won’t win is their matching algorithm is whack. I asked them about it and was told its based on semantic similarity. What that means for users is that if I have indicated I like Barack Obama and you have indicated you like Newt Gingrich then we both like politics and therefore have something in common – which of course semantically is true but doesn’t mean we want to meet.
    Highlights process seems more natural, closer to human behaviour and that means its easier to understand the benefit over the “freakiness” factor.

    1. I think you’re conflating Semantic Similarity. I don’t know anything about Glancee’s implementation, but the whole point is that you compare the information about (for ex) Barak Obama and compare it to the information about Newt Gingrich. I think you’d be safe to say the two sets of information would be highly dissimilar. What you describe (“we both like politicians”) is actually a much simpler positive match coefficient such as Jaccard’s Similarity Coefficient.

    2. I think you’re conflating Semantic Similarity. I don’t know anything about Glancee’s implementation, but the whole point is that you compare the information about (for ex) Barak Obama and compare it to the information about Newt Gingrich. I think you’d be safe to say the two sets of information would be highly dissimilar. What you describe (“we both like politicians”) is actually a much simpler positive match coefficient such as Jaccard’s Similarity Coefficient.

      1. Jeremy unfortunately while what you state might be the case. It is not the case for Glancee – I was talking specifically about their implementation, not Semantic Similarity in general.

  9. Great piece Robert. Glancees biggest problem is its algorithm which is semantic based. I asked them about it and they said it matches on semantic similarity. So if I like Barack Obama and you like Newt Gingrich then we both like politics, which while true doesn’t mean we want to meet.
    Highlight seems more natural, closer to human behavior which goes along way in overcoming the “freakyness” factor. Hopefully they will bring it to android soon.

  10. How do they expect to make money? 

    Ah yes. By doing annoying and potentially creepy things with our personal data, social graph and whereabouts. 

    If this is going to be so big, then they should charge for it. Problem solved. 

    1. I can see a ton of ways for them to make money without doing anything creepy with our personal data. Consumer apps will rarely charge. Why? Not many people will pay for apps, particularly on Android.

    2. I can see a ton of ways for them to make money without doing anything creepy with our personal data. Consumer apps will rarely charge. Why? Not many people will pay for apps, particularly on Android.

    1. Oneaway is close, but the UI isn’t nearly as nice and it doesn’t have the killer features that Highlight has: either a feed or maps of where we met. But thanks, I’ve added it to my phone and will try it over the next week.

  11. I think you’re missing one possible elephant in the room: Apple. If this is hot, hot, hot, what’s to stop Apple from offering this kind of feature set and functionality in its own app? A more robust version of Find My Friends. Or Facebook itself could do it, and blow up Highlight. Or Facebook or Apple could buy Highlight. I see an acquisition of Highlight — it’s tech and team — as a likely outcome here.

    1. Apple can’t do apps like Highlight. Why? It would freak everyone out. Plus, Apple just doesn’t get social at any level, other than to let Twitter and Facebook do it. So, not sure they would even try.

    2. Apple can’t do apps like Highlight. Why? It would freak everyone out. Plus, Apple just doesn’t get social at any level, other than to let Twitter and Facebook do it. So, not sure they would even try.

  12. You should check out EchoEcho. They are releasing a new version this weekend for SXSW that includes WifiSlam indoor floor plan maps that allow you to find friends inside, where GPS doesn’t work. Imagine being inside the Austin Convention Center with 10,000 other people. You know your friends are in the building somewhere, but you can’t find them. EchoEcho with WifiSlam plots your friends on an indoor floor plan, in real time, so yo can find exactly where they are.

    EchoEcho also has a good privacy opt-in model so you don’t get connected to random people, friends of friends, or someone who Liked “The Simpsons” on Facebook. I wrote about EchoEcho today.  http://dondodge.typepad.com/the_next_big_thing/2012/03/echoecho-finds-your-friends-at-sxsw-even-indoors.html

    Don Dodge

    1. I just tried EchoEcho. It’s competely lame compared to Highlight. Are you invested in this?

      The value of Highlight IS getting to see some other people. But it only shows you people you have some connection with, either through some common friends, or some common Facebook likes. EchoEcho doesn’t even hook up to Facebook, which is where my real friends are (my real friends are NOT on my contacts!!!! and that’s very common, just talk to my wife about where she goes when she wants to contact her friends. Hint, it isn’t email, it’s Facebook!) Again, since you work at Google you should disclose you have a conflict of interest here in pushing something that isn’t Facebook oriented.

      And pushing stuff out to SMS? Not good. I really hate getting more and more messages on SMS. My friends know the best place to find me is on Facebook, or email.

      But you don’t get what these things are good for if you are pushing EchoEcho as an alternative to Highlight. It isn’t even close to as useful. See you at SxSW and I’ll show you why.

      1.  Robert, the new version of EchoEcho with indoor location maps isn’t available until this weekend at SXSW. They use WifiSlam for indoor mapping and WalkBase and FourSquare for building location. Use it to find the exact location of your friends at SXSW, even indoors where GPS doesn’t work.

        Yes, I am invested, and disclosed that on my blog. No, I don’t have any conflicts of interest due to Facebook. In fact, EchoEcho is in the process of adding Facebook integration.

        1. Well, I’ll try it. So far I’m totally not impressed especially when compared to Highlight or Glancee. Not the same thing at all. I think EchoEcho is answering a use case with no pain. I already can text my real friends, or call them. Plus, this sounds like it’s so last year (last year’s SXSW was all about group messaging apps, which I could use to find groups of friends anyway, just by texting everyone “where’s the party you all are at tonight?”

          But finding new people who are nearby me that I might have something in common with? Now THAT is something new that I couldn’t do before.

  13. You’re wrong. It’s nothing like Foursquare’s Radar. Too bad that you didn’t even watch the video. You would have understood that if you had.

  14. One thing I haven’t heard about any of these apps is target demographic. Who are the likely users (outside of the digerati)?

    1. Likely the non-discerning FB user who has no concept of privacy. It’s another storm in a teacup manufactured for SXSW.
      Meantime there are apps being built out there that do interpret the concepts of location and similarity to achieve something useful, like addressing the need for validating employment history, saving corporations and businesses from being defrauded of their revenues by a hyped-up ‘Highlight’ minded user base and delivering self-worth back to the community through responsible social collaboration.
      And they’re not wasting their money on partying and slapping each other’s backs at SXSW.

  15. If only this had been around back in the day in college when we used to play Assassin   The gaming feature of this is high…..really high……awesomely high.

  16. Interesting magic formula Robert… “The first app to double 27 times wins the lottery”… 

    Starting with 2 users and doubling accordingly results in 268M users.

  17. Robert—Part of the battle here may also be around adoption by event producers and sponsors. 
    Ultimately I agree that doubling users trumps everything, but these solutions could potentially deliver a lot more value out of conferences, and eliminate how haphazard event networking is at present, something I’ve been blogging about in preparation for the Events are now Platforms: Seven Tools for Success session at SXSW.  Glancee has a nice page on their site that
    speaks to event producer’s in their language, so that may give them a leg up on that
    front.

  18. I think this is brilliant. They’ve absolutely got to capture the android market too, though. (after they “get the product right,” as he says. The idea should exist. It provides a service we didn’t have before (really due to tech limitations), and may eventually be another essential communication pathway. He’s doing the marketing right, too- the app runs “quietly” in the background, – he says, “you start it once, and then it just makes your days so much more fun.” Then the marketing can just rely on the possible but perhaps implausible uses of the app- “imaging you walk into a room, and you can’t remember someone’s name, and then highlight comes and saves the day.” Brilliant- immediately obviously necessary in my everyday life, and not pushy or even particularly subtle tactics. Best of luck to Highlight, and nice job with a well rounded and contemplated article.

  19. Got Highlight just in time for a startup event in Berkeley tonite. Was fun to get a dollar from the guy who messaged in his profile “Say hi and I’ll give you a dollar.”  But even cooler was meeting a guy I was connected to through 3 completely unconnected people in my network. 

  20. Interesting magic formula Robert… “The first app to double 27 times wins the lottery”…²http://www.ifranca.com.br

  21. I think that the privacy concerns directed at both Google and Facebook open a window of opportunity for Yahoo! and it’s Livestand digital content platform. I say this for the following reason: it is much more transparent for an organization to say,”the information you provide us will be used to deliver you personalized images, articles, videos, and other content” – which Yahoo! can so – versus, say, Facebook, which can say “some of the information you provide us may be used to help others to better market to you”……the whole web personalization universe must be framed in the correct way….people will give their information with little concern if it is clear what they will get back – custom content.

  22. I think their is something implicitly interesting about discovering new people who are around you or strengthening existing relationships.  I agree that the thing to watch for is the “freakiness” factor.  Will women feel comfortable using this app?  I’ve been passionate about the geo location space ever since I heard the Loopt guys were trying to crack the code for “who is around you?”.  I think Highlight very well may be the app that finally becomes the location aware social network.