Applications that tell strangers what they have in common

The social networking wave has engulfed every netizen like a raging tsunami. It has completely transformed the way people access the web. The first social networking rush compelled us to catalogue our friends, relatives and long forgotten high school mates. We shared pictures, tweeted our every thought and took care of our virtual farm.

The next wave of social networking, which the techies call as ambient social networking, wants to take the concept to the next level. There are at least a dozen smartphone applications, currently being designed to “discover” new friends for us. The applications will aid us in locating strangers with common interests and in process may end up quenching our latent desire to make new friends


Ambient Social Marketing, it seems, has caught the imagination of the tech tycoons at Silicon Valley. Private Equity Farms and Venture Capitalists are queuing up to provide much needed seed money to such start–ups, who are engaged in this “people discovery” process. At South By Southwest Interactive (SXSW), the annual geek fest at Austin, one such smartphone application was being hyped up majorly. It was Highlight, a two month old iPhone application, which is conceived to “highlight” real life connections that one may not be aware of or alert you to the presence of friends that you may otherwise miss, using a complex algorithm.

Audaciously called by his founders as the “sixth sense”, its modus operandi is something like this. It rummages your Facebook account, noting down the topics you like, your interests as well as your social connections. Then it uses your iPhone’s GPS to alert you to the presence of a –let’s say a friend of your coworker or a complete stranger, who shares the same interests when he or she is nearby.

It is a groundbreaking application and represents a major shift in the tech industry. Unlike the very popular location application Four Square where people checks in regularly to share their location, to earn rewards and discounts of various types, Highlight monitors your whereabouts continuously and shares the shame with members who may be outside your friend circle. This has raised serious privacy concerns as many feel this indiscriminate dissemination of a person’s whereabouts may end up giving a fillip to hi-tech stalking. Another minor problem that it is currently grappling with is that the application is a big drain on your battery – something which the company has addressed and promised to rectify pronto.

Despite such apprehensions, Highlight is a wonderful concept if executed properly. Its biggest challenge is to get its algorithm highlight only those people that we want to meet. It is indeed a rough draft of a powerful idea which is still in its nascent stage. Then again, although providence in its natural forms is a wonderful thing –manufacturing fate will never be easy


However, Highlight is not a one off phenomena. There are other applications also which are using some other forms of the same concept and are rapidly gaining traction. There is Four Square which currently has 15 million users, who frequently check in to broadcast their locations to earn perks.

There is Glancee with 10 million users which alerts one when a staranger is “steps away” and share your interests .

OkCupid is matchmaking on your mobile. It sorts nearby singles by judging their compatibility on several parameters.