These are the ambient social apps competing for SoLoMo dominance

sonar _ imageThe mission statements from the new class of ambient social apps run the gamut, but their basic intention is to connect people and to eradicate missed opportunities. How many times have you been a block away from your college roommate without either of you being the wiser? Well, the point is you have no idea how many times, but start using these types of apps and it’s probably more than you think.

In addition to finding these missed connections, so-called SoLoMo apps are also event-happy. At big shows, conference, and festivals, the spike in location services means they become a hive of activity.

Despite all the build-up, there’s been a lot of griping about these apps. Now that SXSW Interactive Week has come and passed, the criticisms are rolling in. The startups that were supposed to steal the spotlight were hyped to their limits in the anticipation for the show, and the general consensus has been that they didn’t deliver.

The available apps are too passive or too clunky or activity spikes only to completely drop off afterward – these are the common complaints. Lump in the fact that they suck battery life (which is quickly getting better) plus all your common privacy concerns, and I wouldn’t begrudge a user from being entirely turned off from the lot of SoLoMo apps.

However, what’s become increasingly clear is that there’s huge potential here, regardless of the various hang ups. The future of apps will include this type of background, location-awareness – but the jury’s out on whether or not it will be a standalone function or a feature woven into Facebook or Foursquare. I’m waiting to hear about an acquisition involving one of the below-mentioned companies – it just has to be on the horizon.

Until you’ve had one of these apps accomplish something for you, it’s easy to be critical. Just this weekend Highlight alerted me a friend who’d recently moved was in the same store that I was – without it, we would have missed each other. The execution of these apps has yet to be refined, but their purpose is compelling. Here’s a look at the major players in this space that you might want to get familiar with.

highlightHighlight

If you’re even slightly in the SXSW loop, you’ve heard of (and are possibly sick of hearing about) Highlight. The ambient reality app is easily the most popular of this crew and had an impressive launch that helped kick off the increasing interest in this market.

Pros: Highlight has a simple, intuitive, eye-pleasing UI. Even before you know what you’re doing with it, you know it’s fun to look at. That makes it easy to navigate as well – there’s no confusion to this app. It also lays out everything you need to know about this class of apps: when to put it down (right when you sign up for the app, it instructs you to back out because it won’t work just by staring at it), how to pause it, that you need to turn on your location settings.

highlightCons: Because Highlight is so simple, that means when the one thing that there is to do – meet people in the area – isn’t available, it gets boring. There also isn’t a utilitarian way to use the app (yet); when I sat down with Highlight creator Paul Davison, I asked if there would ever be a way to message people within 1000 square feet of you to ask common questions like “does anyone want to share a cab to the airport?” or “what Wi-Fi network is working for you?” – things you’d like answers to from the people around you but don’t necessarily want to shout out. Right now, this feature isn’t there, but he says there is potential. Highlight is also very “people” focused, which is all well and good until you find you want to search by location to see if anyone is around. 

Best if… : You want to really get the SoLoMo experience; if you want to dive in and really give this thing a shot, try Highlight.

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