Can "Highlight," a Location-Based Application, Serve the Arts?

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Back from South by Southwest (SxSW), a few of our Technology in the Arts staff members are buzzing about the exciting digital apps, tech tools, and conversations they participated in during their jam-packed, no sleep, wild partying (just kidding…kind of…) trip to Austin, Texas, last month. One of the most talked about technologies from the SxSW interactive conference was and continues to be Highlight, a location-based application available for free for the iPhone at the iPhone App Store. But before I explain the application and its potential for arts organizations, a DISCLAIMER. An entire research project/doctorate/lifetime could be spent exploring the safety and privacy concerns these location-based applications raise. But the focus of my humble post is not to investigate those legitimate concerns, I’ll leave that to the FBI, Carnegie Mellon University researchers and Paul Davison, founder and CEO of Highlight. Instead, I want to join the conversation on Highlight’s networking potential and what it can offer our industry.

What exactly is a location-based application (or location-based stalking as many critics know it)? If you have heard of or used Foursquare, then you know how a location based-application works. It is an application that uses the geographical location of the user’s mobile device to identify a place, a person, or a thing. It comes in handy when you want to check the weather from your smart phone, the arrival of the next city bus, or identify the location of the photo you snapped from your night out (just in case you cannot remember…).

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As much as it a geographical identification tool, it has also proved to be a networking tool. And this is where Highlight is making waves. Highlight, unlike other popular location-based applications, is connected to the user’s Facebook account. It is a social network based on a social network (try explaining that to your parents). To access the mobile application you must be signed into Facebook. The purpose? To ensure users have a real identity. Once enabled, Highlight identifies others around you with whom you share a Facebook relationship. This relationship can be based on your Facebook friendship, a mutual friend, a friend-of-friend, similar likes, similar interests, same hometown, college classmates, etc. Instead of just “checking-in” as you would with other location-based applications, Highlight identifies who else is around, shows you how you are connected and shares as much information with others as the user makes available. It’s like Facebook, on a map, based on Facebook...

Highlight is described on it's website as:

As you go about your day, Highlight runs quietly in the background, surfacing information about the people around you. If your friends are nearby, it will notify you. If someone interesting crosses your path, it will tell you more about them.

Highlight gives you a sixth sense about the world around you, showing you hidden connections and making your day more fun.

So, aside from being perfect entertainment on your public transit commute to work and annoying as the notifications blow up your phone (it produces a sound when someone in your Facebook community with Highlight enabled is nearby), it is also, according to Eric Eldon for TechCrunch, “the long sought replacement for business cards.” Instead of collecting and losing a handful of cards, the information is available through Highlight. So fear not, as long as that investor who just handed you her business card is on Highlight, absentmindedly sticking your gum in her card and later tossing it won’t be as epic a failure as it used to be. You can still access her name and information using Highlight.

What can Highlight offer your arts organization? I see it as an effective networking tool for marketers, fundraisers and developers. It makes “networking” with your clients, potential donors, prospective sponsors and competitors all the more simple.  At the very minimum, being notified of a fellow Highlight user's presence can remind you “Oh, I meant to call them last week." Or, it can be used a tad more aggressively. What’s that? The manager of the local grocery store just walked into the cardio room at your gym? It looks like your weights-only day just became a cardio day too. You just got a notification, who could it be? Why, it’s Lucas, a long-ago college pal, now a partner in his law firm. He’s just two blocks away? Run, run fast.

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All joking aside, it is one of the newest, location-based networking applications out there, and it's free. Location-based applications like Foursquare have been very popular with museum administrators for interacting with their patrons in the mobile technology and online realms. If you are interested in learning more about how location-based applications in general can serve your organization, check out how the Brooklyn Museum uses Foursquare as a community building tool by offering perks to those who "check in," connecting with those who "check in," and incorporating user generated content on its webpage. While Foursquare offers an "I-was-here-and-there-and-this-is-the-badge-I-uncovered" interactive experience, Highlight is more concerned with establishing connections and networks. Instead of just sharing with your Facebook community you are at the Andy Warhol Museum as you would with Foursquare, Highlight lets you know who else in your Facebook community is also there.

Current issues with Highlight include battery drainage and noise, aka, go to SxSW next year with Highlight enabled on your phone and try to identify or connect effectively with anyone in particular- that notification "ping" will be sounding like crazy!

But I'd love to hear from you. Are you using Highlight or another location-based service to support a function or operation of your arts organization? If so, is it effective? Is this location-based, networking application useful for administrators and/or for enhancing the visitor experience? Or is "checking-in" good enough?