As I mentioned in my post the other day on “cracking the code on mobile events”, I think Highlight has done an incredible job with their app. The team behind the app appears to be hard at work and it’s not without reason: I think they’ve cracked the code. Here’s a more detailed post to highlight (pardon the pun) why I think Highlight is poised for greatness.

What Is Highlight?

For those who haven’t used the product, Highlight is an application that sends push notifications on your phone when your friends or people with similar friends and/or interests are nearby. Currently “nearby” is approximately one city block, which means that this app is targeted directly at urban users for the time being. It’s insanely basic, you can see who’s nearby and then you can optionally send them a message. In addition to showing the people who are nearby you can click into each individual, see their photos, read a little bit about them, and then see a list of each of the times that you’ve passed by each other.

It’s this last component that has made me find this app particularly compelling: strangers suddenly become less of strangers overtime as they’re alerted to each other’s presence. While it may feel a little creepy at first, most people that I’ve seen use the app have become addicted as soon as they start receiving their first notifications.

It’s Dating Without Dating

What immediately struck me as interesting about this app is that it generates a casual environment for connecting with new people. Meeting new people obviously surfaces the potential for dating. Initially, you may think to yourself: why would a female (the gender most concerned about personal security) use this app? Here’s why. First, how many women would like to say “I met my fiance on a dating site?” Probably not many … it’s not romantic. How many females would prefer to meet their significant others through serendipitous interactions instead of picking or being picked from a virtual meat market? Most of them.

Imagine the potential of being able to say “we sat on the same train to work every day for years, however we didn’t know about each other until Highlight alerted us that we were walking right by each other every day”. That sounds like a much more compelling story, no? You see traditional online dating satisfied our need for romance but it accomplishes it in one of the least romantic ways. For females it’s like going out to a nightclub and getting hit on by every guy that walks by.

In the past, successful applications that enable the users to meet new people have had one thing in common: they all had females. Myspace, Facebook, you name it, they all had a mass of females. While I’m not sure of the gender breakdown on this app, I’ve noticed an increasing number of females. If Highlight can successfully attract more females to the app, they’ll have a hit on their hands.

It’s Passive

This is what makes Highlight brilliant. Yes, there are other people who have tried passive connections in mobile apps but I haven’t had one that feels this smooth. My friend Jesse Thomas of [JESS3 was talking about passive checkins back in 2010. For many of us, something doesn’t feel right about pulling out the phone to manually let people know every time you arrive somewhere. More importantly: it serves a completely different purpose.

Highlight is focused on helping you to discover the people around you and that’s it. It’s not about broadcasting out content or bragging to people. Highlight is a mobile communication service that surfaces information about the world around you and encourages two-way communication with others.

Some Serious Issues Moving Forward

There are some obvious risks for Highlight moving forward.

Just a feature?
Many people that I’ve spoken to suggest that Highlight is a feature. Ironically, I don’t see this as one of the risks for their business. You can’t just introduce this type of experience into an existing app. Google, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other big companies out there playing with location services are going to run into some significant issues. Interacting with complete “strangers” is something that most large companies are too afraid to deal with. It’s an experience that has to be the entire app. Highlight connects you to the people around you, friends and missed opportunities.

Sketchy people
This is the obvious risk to Highlight. What happens when sketchy people get on the app and begin to harass other people? Since most of the contacts surfaced through the app for me have had mutual connections, I’ve felt like it discourages sketchy behavior. However it’s pretty clear that things could change once lots of people are on the app. Figuring out how to prevent users from being harassed will be critical to the success of Highlight.

It’s not viral
Nothing is broadcasted out when you walk by people. While the notifications get the two people who were alerted of each other’s presence to load the app, it doesn’t encourage the promotion of the app to a user’s friends. This could prove to be a significant issue, although word of mouth communication combined with press could help the company reach a broader audience.

The logo is annoying
Everybody who sees the Highlight logo is instantly annoyed. It remind me of those t-shirts from the 90s that were purposely made to be blurry. While I’m assuming the founders wanted to use the logo to get people to remember the app, it’s really just annoying. They should get rid of the blurry and they’re good to go.

Massive Potential

Despite the inherit risks facing Highlight, I think the company has a huge potential for success. Something about the app makes me feel like it’s the closest thing to cracking the mobile events code, as I discussed earlier. While it could definitely wind up being a “dating” app without explicitly being called one, the engagement level on Highlight makes me think that this is going to be a winner. Have you used the app yet? What do you think? ](