5 from South By: Ambient social networking, a Highlight of SXSW

March 18, 2012

Social media

Do you think ambient social apps like Highlight are cool, creepy or somewhere in between? (Image credit: allthingsd.com)


5 from South By is a series of five blog posts covering some of the most interesting news and trends from South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, earlier this month. Today’s post is a guest entry my FH colleague, Steve Bauer, wrote while at SXSW — Steve was talking up the new ambient social apps like Highlight weeks before we headed down south.

When I told people that I am going to South by Southwest, the first question everyone asked is “So what’s going to be the next big thing?”

Right now everyone is talking about the virtual pinboard site Pinterest. Fleishman-Hillard SVP Lisa Weser recently wrote a post titled “Pinterest: Bringing Brands on Board” and has successfully helped a number of clients develop their Pinterest strategy.

But Pinterest has already penetrated pop culture, and this is SXSW, so people want to know… “what’s next?!”

While it’s true that SXSW has been the launching pad for game-changing platforms like Twitter (2007) and FourSquare (2009), the reality is that these breakthroughs are the exception rather than the rule. Thousands of start-ups and developers come to Austin in hopes of catapulting their big idea into the global spotlight, but only a small handful successfully cut through the clutter and become mainstream.

So what’s the talk of the town this year? Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore predicted that “ambient social networking” will be a big trend. Ambient social networking uses the GPS from your smartphone in combination with your social profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) to connect you with friends and others with mutual connections and interests who are nearby.

Ambient social networking isn’t completely new. Grindr and Blendr are two apps that connect gays and lesbians with other like-minded people in real-time using location from your phone. The apps have taken off, attracting millions of users in approximately 190 countries around the globe. Joel Simkhai, founder of Grindr and Blendr, explained in his SXSW panel that Grindr and Blendr are successful because they’re simple to use, they integrate with your existing social profiles and, most importantly, they help to solve a need: they help communities of like-minded interests find each other.

Privacy and safety concerns continue to be an issue with location-based social networks. According to Simkhai, the amount of information that is shared is up to the users to decide. Plus, integrating with established social profiles like Facebook and showing mutual connections helps to provide legitimacy and confidence.

Some of the new ambient social networking apps that people are buzzing about at SXSW are Highlight, Sonar and Glancee. All three integrate with your social networks and tell you when friends, friends of friends, or people with similar interests are close by.

My first reaction was that this can be either really cool or kind of creepy, but as I’m writing this post I got a notification from Highlight that an old buddy from Chicago who I haven’t seen in years is just a few blocks away, and I had no idea he was in Austin.

Only time will tell if any of these new apps will become the next big thing. More later - I’m off to meet up with an old friend.

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4 Responses to “5 from South By: Ambient social networking, a Highlight of SXSW”

  1. livepath Says:

    @JGoldsborough Did we even get to say a proper hello? I don’t think so! Consider yourself hugged.


  2. JGoldsborough Says:

    @livepath Back at ya. Wish we’d had more time to hang out. Hope your #sxswi was good. Have fun?


  3. livepath Says:

    @JGoldsborough I was working the whole time. ;-) Our events were a huge success, and that’ s always fun!


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