At this year’s SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas from March 9th to 13th, one of the most popular apps was the ambient social location app, Highlight.
SXSW is one of the most innovative and trendiest shows of the year in the tech community. Often referred to as spring break for geeks, it has been the place for the launch of some of the most notable platforms in social media. Twitter was launched at SXSW in 2007 and Foursquare was launched there in 2009. Often what is launched successfully at SXSW becomes a household name in the tech community overnight as it is adopted in mass by tech early adopters. These early adopters then set the stage for introduction into the general consumer audiences.
In the midst of discussions ranging from the speed of change in interactive to reinventing the agency to social ROI, the most talked about trend at SXSW was the ambient social location app. This form of mobile app shows the user people that are around them using the app and what their interests and social profiles are. The ambient social app identifies your location and alerts you to the people around you, showing their social profiles such as Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare. The most well-known ambient-social location apps are Highlight, Glancee, Banjo and Sonar.
These ambient social location apps all competed for attention at SXSW. The most talked about app at SXSW was Highlight, started by Paul Davison of Silicon Valley. Davison was able to explain clearly and concisely what his product did and make a big splash at SXSW. His public relations team’s effort was a good example of how despite all of the flashy digital tools for the dissemination of information, messaging still matters. Influential tech journalist, Robert Scoble was so impressed with the Highlight team’s message and product that he became an advocate for Highlight during his week at SXSW. Scoble befriended 900 people on Highlight and defended the app when it began to receive criticism from some SXSW attendees. Twitter and Foursquare received similar criticism in earlier SXSW shows, but have certainly met success since their launches. Twitter currently has 465 million users and will reach 500 million users this month. Foursquare currently has 15 million users.
Highlight is a mobile app available on the i-phone market only. Upon downloading, the app tracks your location in the background and sends you a push notification when someone else using the app comes within 50 yards of you. You then have the opportunity to say hello and talk about shared interests and a recording of that meeting is saved on your Highlight account. Highlight often identifies people of shared interests at a geo-location and promotes networking and connectivity.
The other apps in the ambient social location space are Glancee, Banjo and Sonar. Like Highlight, these social discovery apps alert you to others of shared interests at your geo-location upon their arrival.
Glancee tracks your location in the background and links to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. It will show people who are using the app and their shared social graph interests and Facebook picture.
Banjo also tracks your location in the background, but aggregates geo-location data from Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook and Twitter to provide a map of people near you. The user is able to see on a map, pictures of others near them and their respective social profile data.
Sonar uses Foursquare to show you people nearby and utilizes a ranking system to give weight to people who most share your interests. Sonar also has the ability to integrate with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and provide contextual data.
Ambient social location apps are following in the footsteps of Foursquare in their geo-social nature. However, unlike Foursquare they are leveraging the ambient nature of human interaction encouraging greater connectivity and social discovery based on location and shared interests. These apps accelerate individuals desire to discover who at the cocktail party is worth getting to know and most apt to share their interests and goals.
Like Foursquare, ambient social location apps will be adopted by the tech-savvy early adopters in metropolitan areas, university towns, and high tech areas. However these apps may be slow to reach a broad consumer audience. It may be years before they reach the type of adoption numbers that Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have reached with consumers.
However, just as elite influencers such as reporters, congressional staff, technologists, marketing and public relations professionals were early adopters of Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, the power of these ambient social location apps will lead to their quick adoption by this group of people. It will enable elite influencers to better network at events and locations and share ideas and learnings. They will be better able to network and meet the people they need to know.
As tool for a campaign, marketing or public relations professional trying to organize an event and drum up last minute attendance, an ambient social location app alerts them to individuals in the area and allows for them to invite these folks to the event via notifications. For a reporter doing a story who is looking for individuals to interview in the area, these apps alert them to potential sources for their story and allows them to contact them.
Though ambient social location apps will not garner quick and immediate consumer success, they should be considered as an important platform to influence elite opinion and organize grassroots efforts. In 2012 and beyond they will have an increasingly important role in molding and shaping elite opinion and those that influence the public and consumers.