Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Glassmap and Highlight Take on the Next Frontier of Location Sharing: Doing It All the Time

Remember when everyone in social media said it was time for location apps to go “beyond the check-in”? Well, it’s happening. While early leaders like Foursquare try to evolve to turn check-ins into local intelligence, some new apps like Highlight and Glassmap are going all in on helping people passively share their locations.

The new location-sharing apps promise to provide more value to users than ever — but they will surely teeter awfully close to the edge of creepy for many people.

Unless you go to Stanford or one of the 10 other colleges where it’s been tested, Glassmap may not have crossed your radar.

The stealthy-till-now company came out of the Y Combinator program last summer, and it’s specifically focused on colleges, families and tight groups of friends. The Glassmap app for iOS and Android constantly shares users’ locations and shows them on a map.

Glassmap founder Geoff Woo says his company’s secret sauce is the work it’s done around managing battery drain, a common problem with smartphone apps that use GPS. This is done through careful management of pushing and pulling data from each user’s client version of the app.

Woo contended that Glassmap is also “more social” than other passive location-sharing services that are not for dating, like Google Latitude and Apple’s Find My Friends. He noted Glassmap features such as integrated text messaging, calling and virtual “waves” (like Facebook “Pokes”). Outside of college campuses, Woo said he sees the app being used among families and close groups of friends.

Meanwhile, another new app that’s getting some attention in Silicon Valley is Highlight, which, like Glassmap, constantly transmits users’ locations, but is very different in practice.

Highlight tells iOS app users when they are in the vicinity of their Facebook friends and other people they might want to get to know, based on common friends and interests.

Highlight explicitly does not show users on a map, but rather pinpoints moments when two users are in close proximity to each other (within 150 meters). The idea is to increase serendipity.

“Highlight makes people friendlier,” co-founder Paul Davison told me.

“The real world is like Facebook where every profile is just a single photo,” Davison said. And so Highlight — which Davison started as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Benchmark Capital — aims to put those faces in context.

Okay, sure, but what about the creepy factor? “If you build this simply enough with the right privacy controls, it could be useful to everyone in the world,” Davison argued.

I personally think Highlight is interesting, especially in the run-up to the location-sharing mecca of SXSW Interactive in Austin next month. But even in this young space, the claws are already out.

When I asked Woo what he thought of Highlight, he quickly dismissed it by saying, “You could just talk to people on the street if you really wanted to. In the mainstream world that’s not something people want to do.”


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald