Emerging TechnologyMobileHighlight CEO Talks Hype, Monetization and Privacy

Highlight CEO Talks Hype, Monetization and Privacy

SXSW buzz-child sounds patient about creating revenue.

highlightAs a South by Southwest darling, few tech brands benefited from more buzz during March than Highlight. But the San Francisco startup’s CEO, Paul Davison, told ClickZ New yesterday that he’s not at all keen on the chatter.

“I hate the hype,” he said. “I actually do.”

Davison was busy prepping the new version of his so-called serendipity app for approval submission to the Apple store. The update, he said, will include making the app less of a drain on iPhone batteries, among other tweaks.

Davison is focused on a range of technology issues related to his app, not so much on creating revenues. For instance, he pointed out the three-month-old Highlight is still without an Android version. He said his venture capital-backed company may not focus on monetization “for a few years.”

Down the road, he said, “There will be things we can do around advertising… We could help reach people with certain interests or from a certain area. We can help businesses learn more about their customers. Though it’s all about critical mass…If we get our product so it helps the world, there will be a lot of ways to make money.”

Davison was mum on user numbers. On whether Highlight’s eventual monetization model would look more like Facebook or Foursquare, he remarked, “I think it could look different from both of them. If I had to guess, it would probably look more like Facebook.”

Here’s how the Highlight user experience works: If a “friend of a friend” is in the coffee shop next door, the user will receive a push notification. He or she will see images and names of nearby strangers on the app with which he or she has “1 thing in common” or “2 things in common.” The key utilities, in theory, are that Highlight will help users meet more people while reconnecting with users they already know.

“It happens more often than you’d think that your friend is behind that wall,” Davison said. “Or that the person sitting next to you knows 32 of your friends.”

Unlike Foursquare and Facebook Places, check-ins are not a part of the process. As tech marketers like to say, the app is “frictionless.” But questions easily arise. Will this particularly transparent brand of location-based information rub social media users who also like a little privacy the wrong way? And will the app be attractive to users who are older than Gen Y? Future mobile users of all ages will accept more transparency, Davison contended, just as consumers have grown accustomed to the privacy given up in the last two decades because of cell phones, the Internet, and social media.

“The same thing happened with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare,” he said. “When those new technologies came out, they were mostly used by people that were younger. And that’s pretty natural… Just think of 10 years ago. If you saw a pretty sunset or something unusual, you weren’t as inclined to share that as you are today.”

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