The hot apps at this years SXSW festival were the proximity awareness apps, which use geo-tagging to help you discover the people around you. Glancee and Highlight are thus far the two most popular apps in this category, although Highlight is the clear winner in my opinion. Over the coming months I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these apps roll out and while Highlight has made some big steps in the right directions, I believe the app that leverages professional connections, as opposed to personal when making recommendations, will realize the full potential of these apps.
A bit about Highlight…the app essentially runs in the background of your phone and does not require you to actually do anything. It alerts you via push notification when someone it thinks you would be interested in meeting is close by. How does it determine who you should meet you may ask? Highlight uses your Facebook social graph and alerts you to people with mutual friends and/or mutual interests. You can then “Highlight” the person which is a simple way of saying you think they are interesting, attractive, or a combination of the two. You can also start a chat with the person if so inclined.
At first, I was very put off by Highlight. I did not see the value in being told when a complete stranger, who may or may not know one of my 1000+ friends on Facebook, is nearby. Why would I care about this person unless she happened to be an attractive female? The more the app let me know who was nearby however, the more interested I became.
The reason for my increasing interest is simple; people are fascinating. Everyone has a story, and Highlight tells you a bit about each person’s, however small it might be. This effect may be amplified by the fact that I now live in San Francisco, and every person who pops up in my Highlight seems to either be a co-founder of a start-up or an analyst at one of the venture capital firms I so aspire to work for. Regardless, I have found it somewhat enjoyable to check the app at the end of the day to see which smart, talented people I was near.
Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that while Highlight is a fun app with which to pass the time, it does not provide me with any tangible value. The way it determines who I would be interested in is so basic and superfluous that it nearly renders the app useless. I think Highlight is onto something but they are missing the big opportunity. I believe this location-based, proximity aware type of app could be huge in a professional mobile application.
Think for a moment about an app that would leverage Linkedin in addition to Facebook. It would know where I work and the position I hold. This would give the app a fantastic idea of the people I would be interested in connecting with. Perhaps I am a salesperson at a company offering cloud application hosting services. The app could tell me when potential clients were in the same coffee shop as me. Wouldn’t the ability to go over and introduce oneself to a potential client be exponentially more valuable than a cold call followed by an email?
Or perhaps I am a VP of Product Management at Software Company, always looking for developers to hire. The app could tell me when a rock star engineer is in the same grocery store as I. It could simultaneously leverage my social graph and tell me if these other professionals may have friends in common with me. This could make for a warmer introduction.
By manufacturing serendipitous moments that could potentially help me do my job better, this type of app would add tangible value to my life. It would be a must have for any serious networking professional.
My message to Highlight is the following; I only want to be notified when someone nearby is going to very relevant to me. I could care less about anyone else. I have enough friends already. Any person who can help my company or help me do business however, is EXTREMELY relevant, and I want to be alerted.
I suspect we will see this type of professional app rolling out sometime in the near future and I will be a user the moment it does. Who knows, perhaps Highlight will make the move from personal to professional????