Location-based social startup Highlight has just released a new version of its app, aimed at being smarter about the connections it shows, while also giving users more context about what those connections have been up to. The company also has raised $4 million in new funding led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
Highlight was founded around the time of the social-local-mobile (SoLoMo) boom of early 2012. Along with startups like Sonar and Glancee, the company promised to “highlight” interesting people nearby, thanks to a combination of GPS location data, and persistent identity through Facebook connect, and the ability to know a whole lot about your interests and relationships you share on social networks.
That boom went bust, and Highlight is more or less the last player standing in what used to be a pretty crowded market. Not only is it still around, but the company is growing thanks to a new $4 million Series A Round led by DFJ, with participation from existing investors Benchmark and Crunchfund, along with new investors such as Greycroft, Semil Shah’s Haystack Fund, and Dave Morin’s Slow Ventures.
As part of the funding, new DFJ managing director Bubba Murarka will join Highlight’s board. It’s notable in part because this is the first investment for Murarka, who was head of Facebook’s Android team and led the development of Facebook Home. So he knows a thing or two about mobile.
Anyway, along with the funding, Highlight is also releasing version 2.0 of its app. The really big news is that Highlight has a new icon, one that’s not as likely to blind you if you happen to glance at it the wrong way. Beyond that, though, it’s also done a lot of work to make the app more visually appealing, and a lot more powerful under the hood.
What’s most notable when you open up Highlight is that it has a new, two-column layout with staggered images to showcase the people who happen to be nearby. That’s a big departure from the text-heavy Highlight from days of yore.
The app also has been re-architected to be smarter about the connections that it shows or notifies you about. CEO Paul Davison admits that the early app needed to reduce the number of connections it highlighted, in part because mutual connections wandering by happens far more often than most people expect.
Now, based on the location information that it has about users, it can pinpoint interesting connections that you’re unlikely to know about. For instance, when traveling, it’ll let you know when a friend happens to be in the same city. Or, it can alert users when a couple of friends are hanging out together nearby on a Saturday.
Understanding that some connections are stronger than others, and that different times of day and different places matter, is just part of how Highlight is doing a better job of filtering out weak signals that people don’t really care about.
The app has also gotten smarter about knowing what you’re doing and where you are. It knows, for instance, if users are walking, biking, or traveling in a car, based on how fast they’re moving. One of the cool — if a little bit creepy — features that it added this time around is a map which plots connections nearby and allows you to even see your connections moving, and which direction they’re going.
Another creepy but cool thing it can show you is what music your connections are listening to on their headphones, either through iTunes or Facebook-connected services like Spotify or Rdio.
With the latest update to the app, Highlight has also enabled users to see updates from those that they haven’t connected with in a while. Those updates are brought in from moments shared in Highlight, as well as those that users have posted on other networks, like Twitter and Instagram.
That will allow you to catch up on what people have been up to, before you catch up with them in person. According to Davison, this could give users something to talk about or catch up on. Updates appear over a users profile image, and can be clicked directly into from the home screen.
The other big area of focus was battery life, something which Highlight has been slammed on in the past. To deal with this, the company has worked hard to optimize the amount of drain the app causes when it’s not actively being used.
According to the company, the new app is five times more energy efficient than the earlier version. On average, it uses less than 1 percent of battery life per hour when a phone is in standby mode.
The Future Is Now?
Will that ultimately lead to more adoption?
If nothing else, Davison has been steadfast in his belief that all of the location and personal information that our phones know about us will one day lead to some sort of egalitarian utopia where they’ll let us know when there’s someone to have an interesting conversation with nearby.
From the moment I met him almost two years ago until now, he’s maintained faith that the future is coming and that Highlight is just the earliest implementation of what that future will be like.
In fact, given the wide array of new sensors and gadgets that have popped up since then — including a growing number of quantified self devices and smarter technology like Apple’s M7 chip in existing devices — Davison imagines a world where apps like Highlight will have even more data to draw on.
In other words, the future is here. It might just take us some time to catch up to it.