Highlight Is Like the 'ChatRoulette' of iOS Apps

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One of the apps that is getting a lot of attention in Austin at this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference is Highlight. The social app automatically notifies you when other Highlight users you may have something in common with are nearby. The concept is either sort of cool, or a bit creepy and stalkerish.

You may not have even heard of Highlight yet. The app has only been around a month or two, but it has exploded on the geek scene. I heard about it from the usual suspects like Robert Scoble, and added it to my iPhone. I didn’t really understand it still, but I feel like I have some sort of obligation to be on the bleeding edge of the next wave so I can inform others about it.

Like ChatRoulette, Highlight is a bit of a gamble where you don't really know who you might meet.
Highlight integrates with your Facebook social network, and taps into the location-based features of the iPhone. Essentially, if there is anyone else nearby who uses Highlight who is in any way connected to you--either a friend, or friend of a friend within Facebook--Highlight alerts you and gives you an opportunity to connect in real life. It also lets you know if you have something in common with the Highlight contact, such as you both “Like” the TonyBradley Facebook page.

I live in the Houston area, which—Dwight Silverman and myself notwithstanding—is not exactly a bastion of tech geeks. Needless to say, adding Highlight to my iPhone here in the Houston area was fairly anti-climactic. Nothing happened because nobody else I’m even remotely connected to socially lives anywhere near me, and even those who do haven’t jumped on the Highlight bandwagon.

When I traveled to San Francisco for the RSA Security Conference a few weeks ago, though, suddenly Highlight sprang to life and started letting me know that other Highlight users I might know were nearby--and presumably also notified them of my presence. Apparently, Highlight use is also pretty strong among the geeks and nerds attending SXSW.

The problem is--I don’t really know any of the people Highlight alerted me about. They are all “friends of friends” in Facebook. I received 17 Highlight notifications. They ranged from having one friend in common to one who has four Facebook friends in common with me, but I wasn’t familiar with any of them.

For each one of them, I have their profile picture, the city they live in, and where they work. I have a map displaying where they were at the moment Highlight detected and notified me, and a button to connect to the person’s Facebook page. It seems a little TMI (Too Much Information) to be sharing with someone you don’t even know--sort of like the ChatRoulette of iOS.

Granted, you have some control over the information you share on Highlight and who can see it. For example, I haven’t filled in my “Neighborhood” because I don’t think strangers need to know (I suppose I could put “Houston” since that is quite vague and it’s information I willingly shared in this article). I also limited who can see me on Highlight to “Friends of friends only” rather than “Everyone”. Frankly, I’d rather limit it just to my actual Facebook friends, but that isn’t one of the two available options.

I realize that the idea is to broaden your horizons and meet new people, and to some extent these people have been “vetted” by your own social network. I have to admit that I was more inclined to seek out people who had three or four Facebook friends in common with me than just one. I assumed--right or wrong--that if four of my connections like this person they are probably OK.

But, for all I know these people could be thugs or serial killers too. I’m not sure it’s a great idea to have my iPhone automatically spewing my current location details and Facebook profile to every random stranger with a tenuous virtual connection to me who might be nearby.

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