If SXSW has produced any breakout startups this year, it’s Highlight.Highlight is a subtle way to stalk people you’ve never met but share common interests with. It shows who has been nearby throughout the day and pulls in Facebook data on them, including where the person works and their pictures. It shows the person’s location in relation to yours on a Google map. In-app messages can be sent to nearby people too.
Highlight has received mixed reviews. What’s most controversial is that it only pulls information on strangers. You’re not swapping personal information with trusted friends. There’s no option to check-in, although you can pause Highlight for any length of time.
Last week, in preparation for SXSW, I downloaded the app. After an hour I found my battery life had been significantly drained. I also didn’t like the feeling of being watched, so I deleted Highlight from my iPhone.
On my flight to SXSW, I had a change of heart. I looked around the terminal and realised most of the passengers were heading to the conference. Some were familiar faces but I had trouble placing names. So, I downloaded Highlight again.
I pulled it open and tried to be stealth in my stalking. The director of a startup I’ve covered was close by. I glanced up sheepishly trying not to get caught. Then I spotted him.
A few feet away was a TechStars NY team I had met once before.
In the past three days, Highlight has found 116 other users in my vicinity, including Rick Webb and Dave Morin, two people I would like to meet.
People have been respectful on Highlight too. Maybe I’m just not that cool, but no Highlight stranger has tapped me on the shoulder. I’ve only received one message on it and the person merely wrote, “Hi Alyson! How’s it going?”
I’ve kept myself logged out of Highlight for most of SXSW. The battery draining issue is a big problem. SXSW is also too overwhelming to be a good use case for Highlight. Many of the 15,000 attendees have the app, and when you’re sitting on panels or attending parties, you’ll get pinged an annoying amount of times.
Other Highlight users I’ve spoken with at SXSW have had similar experiences. One startup executive told me he saw a product manager from Square sitting nearby but felt too strange to make a move. Later, he noticed an investor was close and it reminded him to reach out.
Right now, having Highlight is semi-beneficial and cool. Tech influencers are the only people on it and many of them are people I’d actually like to meet. If Highlight goes mainstream however, I won’t get excited that Susie from The Flower Shop is three feet away.
Highlight could also be used as a new form of dating. If you’re in a bar and see someone attractive, you can learn a little bit about them before approaching. If you see they’re already in a Facebook relationship, Highlight could save your breath.
I won’t be using Highlight much, but I also won’t be deleting it again.