Архив метки: Paul Davison

How Glancee And Highlight Are Fixing Those Background Location And Notification Problems

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Somewhere off in the future, there will be a mobile app that shows you all of the nearby people who you might find interesting — without you having to click a single button to check in. But we’re not there yet, as thousands of South By Southwest attendees have been discovering over the last few days.

New background location apps like Highlight and Glancee have certainly been trying hard. As everyone else has partied, the tiny teams at these startups (and their various rivals) have been working around the clock to tweak the notifications they send and the nearby people they show.

Have they been successful?

The proximity of massive numbers of other users have pushed what these apps do to the breaking point, and I’ve been hearing lots of criticism about their inability to stop the notification spam, or deliver the right results.

The complaints are anecdotal so far. Background apps aren’t for everyone, whether because people don’t want to share their locations, because they want to conserve their batteries, or because they simply don’t care about finding nearby friends or interesting strangers.

But there’s evidence that both apps have been getting decent traction. Highlight has broken into the top 25 social networking app category in Apple’s US iTunes store. While it’s not available for Android, rival Glancee is — and has been racking up some strong numbers lately on Google Play.

So what have these apps been doing to fix themselves up for the crowds? I’ve been talking to the chief executives/cofounders/engineers of Glancee and Highlight for a few more details.

The changes aren’t going to leave every user satisfied, but the results could be a much more nuanced discovery experience when you use them in everyday life.

Andrea Vaccari of Glancee tells me that his apps’ notifications are currently based on three things. The first is relevancy of someone based on friends and interests, with friends weighted more. The second is the recency of any previous recommendation. And from that, the third is the recommendation for that particular person. It also fine-tunes the experience for each user, so these are not hard and fast rules.

“What we explore,” he explains, “is how to best compute relevancy (friends over interests, rare interests over popular ones), how often to send out recommendations with respect to your movement habits (more recommendations if you are moving, less recommendations if you are in the same place for a long time or if it’s late at night), and to distinguish between your roommates and coworkers (people you already know are nearby) and everyone else.”

It also looks at how often you, the user, are moving around. If you stay in the same place, it’ll slow down the frequency of notifications; if you regularly get stationary at certain times, like at 9am when you get to work, it’ll also take that into account.

Highlight has a somewhat different approach, although the themes are broadly similar. It’s currently providing push notifications about people in the following order of importance: friend connections, things in common, time of day, location (ten feet versus 200 feet), and whether you’ve crossed paths before with the other person.

Back in San Francisco, you might see people show up who only had a friend or two in common, or even no friends and just a couple interests. But here, as chief executive Paul Davison told me yesterday on TCTV, you’ll need to have high numbers of friends and interests connecting you (think: dozens) in order to register.

The startup also made a subtle but significant design change partway through the event. It switched to only showing you the top ten most relevant people who were nearby. While this has created an asymmetrical view, in that you might not see the other person even if they see you, it also allowed each user to get a more customized view.

Overall, Highlight notifications have felt way more minimal than the others — some that I’ve tried have had like 50 a day. Davison confirmed this yesterday, saying that users should be getting them in the single digits. However, he noted, if you’re using the messaging feature or getting marked as a Highlight (a new feature to identify people you find particularly interesting), you’ll see those as well. In its next version, look for the app to add a feature where each user can manually control frequency for each type of notification.

So, as SXSW attendees head back to the real world, these app developers will be figuring out how to balance day-to-day activity with the changes they’ve had to make for the event. After all, lots of users will be going to other conferences and concerts around the country and the world — and they’ll be wanting to use these apps to make the same sorts of connections in the middle of crowds, too.

My sense is that these apps are in the middle of a new way of sharing, that will be adopted by larger companies (Facebook and Foursquare?). The white-hot pace of experimentation this weekend might one day be viewed as a watershed moment of widespread location sharing, not just a crowded, noisy and battery-draining affair.

[Top image via Erick Schonfeld.]


How Glancee And Highlight Are Fixing Those Background Location And Notification Problems

Highlight Needs To Let You Switch Off ‘Friend Of Friend’ Notifications Before SXSW

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Ambient location app Highlight is a big deal. Eldon likes it, Scoble likes it, MG and Mike like it and Grindr fan Charlie Cheever likes it. More importantly, I like it.

Before you call me out for being slightly narcissistic with the above statement (which wouldn’t make me at all unique in my field), here’s why the fact that I like it is important; In case you haven’t noticed, I am a female, which means I am an indicative use case for an app that forces you to constantly broadcast your location.

The premise behind services like Highlight and Glancee is that humans are desperate to connect with one another on a multitude of levels. Why not make it easier for them if we have the technology? As one of my VC friends rudely put it, when I expressed my love for the app, “Seems like a fad, but if it gets people laid then it’s huge.”

I’m pretty sure this is going to need females on it to go beyond Grindr and get a critical mass of people laid.

The issue with females is that we’re sensitive with regards to dudes contacting us about getting laid, hence being cautious about letting people know where we are at any given moment (I’m coming to this conclusion based on anecdotal information). Because there are serious, real world implications to being carelessly open with that sort of stuff.

Highlight had 20K users when I last spoke to founder Paul Davison a couple of weeks ago. In about a week, that number will likely exponentially increase, as people in Austin download what we’ve already touted as THE BIGGEST APP AT SXSW.

As I prepare for the coming week, I realize if Highlight doesn’t create some sort of “Only Friends” filter, and thus blocking “Friends of Friends” as well as people you have Likes in common with from seeing your location, Texas is going to be a shitshow. For example, thanks to Highlight I now know that Evan Williams and MG Siegler are both a block away from me for some reason. Imagine if I were a crazy startup founder weren’t “so over” talking to tech celebrities … I would totally change out of my pajamas and try to intercept them somehow.

I’m willing to bet that the above hypothetical is going to play out a thousand times in Austin unless Highlight fixes it so I can only see MG (who is my friend on Facebook and in real life) and not Ev.

Judging from the reactions I’m getting when I try to explain to Normals what Highlight does (“Omg IT LETS PEOPLE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?!?!?”), mainstream society isn’t ready for it as it stands now. If things work out as founder Paul Davison envisions, one day Moms will be cool with lightweight actions like letting their friends know if they were both at the same party, but for now many are apprehensive.

“Privacy is so critical,” Davison told me in an interview, “Having people’s trust is so critical for this sort of thing. We want to build something women can use and feel safe on. If you build this product the right way you can build something that will be really useful.”

In my opinion, the “right sort of way” means allowing users to limit the app to “Friends.” Highlight is winning because unlike services like Sonar you don’t have to check in, but if its default inclusivity isn’t tempered in the next week, it will serve as a fatal flaw when we all get to early adopter Austin.

I can just imagine the stacks of Highlight messages from PR People now …

“We’re still working on basic throttling,” Davison tells me. “Tiny changes in the product have a profound impact [no kidding!] … If you do this the right way it just makes people better. It’s really hard to get it right, but if you get it right, it’s hard for me to think of something more important to be building. You’re literally giving the world a sixth sense.”

Good luck Paul.


Highlight Needs To Let You Switch Off ‘Friend Of Friend’ Notifications Before SXSW

Foursquare And Glancee Are Cool, But Here’s Why I’m So Excited About Using Highlight At SXSW

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The crowds and hype of South By Southwest make the massive Austin tech and media conference the perfect place for launching, well, any sort of app that needs crowds and hype to break out of tech circles and into the mainstream. So what can we expect to blow up next week, like Twitter, Foursquare, GroupMe and Beluga have in past years?

Highlight is what I’m placing my bets on — and not for what it is today, but for what it could become. That is, the long-sought replacement for business cards.

The new background location app got my attention at the beginning of February because it made it easy for me to find old friends and meet new ones without the friction of checking in. But some of you are going to prefer Glancee, because it has a tighter privacy focus, a subtle but smart algorithm for matching to nearby friends, and a beautiful design. Other people are likely to just stick to Foursquare — which is killing it these days — or maybe just Facebook Messenger (which Beluga became). Or maybe one of the dozens of other location apps that have their own ideas (or cloned ideas) for how to connect people in close proximity.

Relentless early adopter Robert Scoble has also taken a close look at each, and last weekend declared them the up-and-comers at SXSW this year. I agree — and actually meant to write a post about it, but he beat me to the punch ( for you, Scoble).

In an in-depth article for The Next Web last weekend, he sketched out three key reasons why these apps are special. By having them turned on and running in the background of your phone, they can help you find people to hang out with, learn more about nearby strangers, and tell you when your real friends are near.

All true, but there’s something bigger going on. These apps are enabling types of long-term connections that nothing else has yet, which in some ways is like remote contact sharing service Bump. This vision hasn’t manifested itself yet, but you can see the signs in the update that Highlight in particular says it’s going to push next week.

Check out what founder Paul Davison said on Thursday, when he announced his new funding round.

We want Highlight to make Austin even more fun for you – by surprising you with hidden connections, surfacing information about the people you meet, and helping you remember these people when you bump into them at a random New York coffee shop a year later.

Wait, what? Wasn’t he just supposed to be talking about South by Southwest? No. He’s talking about building a new social network on top of Facebook, the key source of user data for both his app and Glancee. This is what is going to make Austin so interesting next week. Highlight could create new value for users when they go back home, and that’s what fundamentally needs to happen when we all take our hungover flights back home.

Instead of the normal business card swapping that happens at the event, it’s sounding like Highlight is going to get some sort of feature for marking and saving the favorite people you meet in person. Thinking through the New York coffee shop scenario, imagine seeing a notification that says “You met Robert Scoble at the Trendy Startup BBQ party in Austin. Now he’s two blocks away at a bagel place. Go say hi!” Instead of just using mutual friends and Liked Facebook pages to determine relevancy, Highlight is getting a new layer of behavior data.

Now indulge a little bit of speculation about where all this could go (I don’t know Highlight’s specific plans). You can also imagine the app adding features like an auto-created group or list of “Friends From Austin.” A few weeks after the conference, what if you could see a list of all of these people and message them through Highlight to reconnect. And because Highlight uses Facebook data, it could also tap into the social network to allow users to share the phone numbers, email addresses and other contact info they already have stored. I would love a feature that said “Robert Scoble is sharing his contact info, click here to download it to your address book.”

And boom, business cards would be dead. Forget stuffing your pockets full of cardboard at a party, going back home, throwing them on your hotel room dresser as you pass out, and forgetting them when you have to rush out the next morning to catch your flight. You’d just mark the people you want to stay connected to right when you meet them, and then at your convenience connect with them later.

Here’s a little more evidence for that sort of experience. As I’ve used Highlight in San Francisco over the past month or so, I’ve found myself scrolling through to see who’s nearby, ignoring any messages from interesting people as I continue working, and then going back hours or days later — and geographically far from where I’d made the connection — and continuing the conversation. As I’ve said before, this has already connected me with old friends, introduced me to new people, and gotten me stories for my job.

So hang on to your phones, folks, because they’re going to be all you need to create a new and lasting network of friends.

[Top photo of Austin skyline via StuSeeger.]

Note: One of Highlight’s new investors is the CrunchFund. And while the partners are friends, and its largest limited partner is our parent company, AOL, I have no financial stake in the firm and TechCrunch only covers its investments when we think they’re good (not all of them) — same as any other investor who we know. Feel free to discuss with me in the comments. 


Foursquare And Glancee Are Cool, But Here’s Why I’m So Excited About Using Highlight At SXSW

Surprise! Location App Highlight Actually Creates Serendipity

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The big promise of location-based mobile apps is that they can help you find something great in real life without you meaning to look for it. But that hasn’t usually been my experience. Instead, whether because of the friction of having to check in, the lack of adoption by friends outside of tech, or whatever else, I simply forget to use them.

That has changed with Highlight, a new passive location app for iOS that shows you when Facebook users with friends and interests in common are nearby. Since it launched last week, I’ve gotten in touch with an old friend/source who’s now at a big new company, discovered a couple previous acquaintances who happen to live or work near me, and got the heads up about a fellow blogger creeping behind me at work. My experience is more or less on track with what founder Paul Davison is hearing from other users so far.

But before I get into that, what’s different about Highlight from the million other location apps out there? At first, it doesn’t seem like much: you install it on your phone, sign in with Facebook, and continue your life as normal. But there is no check-in. Instead, you get notifications showing up whenever Facebook friends, friends-of-friends or just people  with shared interests (that is, Liked Facebook pages) are close. If you click through any of the notifications, you can see their Facebook profile photos, the specific shared friends and interests you have, and the option to message with them or leave a comment.

The combination of the Facebook social graph and the frictionless sharing experience makes discovery uniquely automatic. The closest app I’ve seen to it is Sonar, which lets you find Foursquare users with things in common, but still requires a check-in. Maybe everyone else doing location will evolve their products along Highlight’s lines, as Josh noted when he covered the launch, but for now the startup is off to a great start.

Here’s what its users are doing so far, as related to me by Davison:

Remembering names: Remembering names has been a pretty powerful use case. One of our users saw someone he knew at a coffee shop and initially avoided eye contact because he couldn’t remember the man’s name. Then Highlight popped up and told him who the man was and how he knew him, so he was able to go over and say hi.

Remembering other details about friends: People have been using it at dinner parties to remember where their friends work.

Discovering that friends are nearby: One user and her husband were eating dinner and Highlight notified them that their close friends were also at the restaurant, on the other side of the bar, so they joined up and ate together.

People are getting notified that friends are nearby all the time – when they are shopping, out at bars, or getting coffee in the afternoon.  Sometimes they’ll meet up with the friend, or other times they’ll just say a quick hi.  They say it makes it more fun to go out in the city.

Impromptu meetings (a quote from a user): ”I have been emailing with someone about meeting up for weeks and today he pinged me on Highlight when the app said we were nearby, and we just grabbed coffee then. It was so awesome.”

Another example, from Davison: ”I was in a coffee shop this weekend and one of our users appeared in my Highlight feed right as I was working on a feature she had requested. I pinged her in the app and it turns out she was sitting at front of the coffee shop, so we met in person and I showed her the designs we were working on. It even turns out she works with a friend of mine from college. It was really nice to randomly meet her in person like that.”

Getting to know coworkers: “We’ve had a lot of people use it in their offices to help people remember their coworkers’ names and learn more about them. It makes people friendlier and reduces the awkwardness. It’s tough to ask someone their name when you’ve been nodding hello to them in the hallways for three months.”

Connections from the past: One user crossed paths with a woman who knew a boy he used to mentor in Texas 10 years ago, who had recently passed away. They did not meet up in person, but they talked in the app about how they missed him and how nice it was to connect with someone who was feeling the same thing.

Seeing when visitors are nearby: When people are expecting a friend, they like getting notified when their friend is nearby.

Conferences: A lot of people are saying they’d like to use it for conferences, so they know where people work and what friends they have in common with them.

Asking questions: People have started using their Highlight status to ask questions to the people around them and get pinged throughout the day with replies.


Surprise! Location App Highlight Actually Creates Serendipity

Mobile App Highlight Gives You A 6th Sense About Who’s Nearby

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Checkins are not the future. They interrupt the moment and quickly become outdated. Highlight, a mobile app launching today, offers a better gateway to serendipitous meetups. All you do is download Highlight, turn it on, and let it run passively in the background. Then when you come within a few blocks of another Highlight user who’s your Facebook friend or that you have friends or interests in common with, Highlight sends you a push notification and lets you message them.

Highlight’s founder Paul Davison excitedly explains, “Nothing effects our lives and happiness more than the people we’re closest to, but the way we learn about them is totally random.” When his sister moved to the US from London and needed to meet new people, Davison got the idea for Highlight. Davison previously worked for Benchmark Capital and at Metaweb through its acquisition by Google, but is now half of the extra-lean bootstrapped two-man team behind Highlight.

The iOS app’s home screen shows a reverse chronological list of all the people you’ve crossed paths with. Clicking through to someone reveals basic information they’ve added, mutual friends and interests, Highlight status updates, and a log of every time you’ve been nearby them. The app can drain battery life as it runs GPS in the background. However, Davison says he hasn’t heard many complaints from users, and it should become even less of an issue as the app is further optimized and mobile tech improves.

Highlight’s internal message feature can help you meetup with friends who might be in the coffee shop next door, or introduce yourself to potential business contacts, buddies, or romantic interests. A pause button lets you go off the radar until you next open the app if you don’t want to share your location.

By default your profile can appear to anyone you cross paths with, but a privacy option lets you restrict visibility to friends of friends only. Some people are still sure to think Highlight is creepy right now. Like many great social technologies, though, Highlight may be ahead of the curve. Davison insists creating a safe, trusted network where both men and women feel comfortable is a priority.

“Whether we do it or someone else does it, I know this 6th sense is going to exist and it’s going to change the world”, Davison believes. “In the future we’ll look back and say ‘I can’t believe we didn’t have it and walked around blind.’”

Highlight could disrupt existing location services like Foursquare and Facebook Places, or at least spur them to evolve. Those companies may attempt to copy its passive functionality, so Highlight needs to establish traction now. But really, Highlight does something new. The way Instagram makes you see art everywhere you look, Highlight makes you feel connected where you were once surrounded by strangers.

Highlight is now available for iOS to anyone in the US.


Mobile App Highlight Gives You A 6th Sense About Who’s Nearby