Highlight’s Roll for iOS App Is Great For Quickly Sharing Photos With Friends, But Initially Lacks Unique Features

Whatever happened to Highlight? You remember the app — it’s a location-based service that helped you find people near you in an almost serendipitous-type manner. Turns out that it’s still around and the company is still chugging away, especially after raising $4 million in December 2013. The company just launched its first standalone app today called Roll. What makes this new product so special? It’s being billed as a “new way for close friends to keep in touch by sharing their camera roll.”


In a way, you could think about Roll as being more akin to Bump, the long-shuttered mobile contact sharing service that Google acquired in 2013. Essentially you connect with your friend and afterwards, you can “roll” photos and videos from your camera roll to them that only they can see. Once you’ve been successfully on-boarded, your feed includes photos shared by your friends and also files from your camera roll. Swiping up will push the media to your network while swiping down will keep them private.

Although photos are not ephemeral, Roll will only display a particular image from your friends’ shared camera roll once. Your friends can save your media to their device or like it. Tagging is also allowed on your photos and videos and if you associate it with someone not on Roll, an invite will be sent to them encouraging them to sign up in order for view it. One thing that I’ve noticed is that at the beginning, you parse through your media from the most recent to the oldest, but only 10 at a time — it can get pretty annoying when you constantly see an interstitial message saying “That’s it for now!” I’d much rather see the feed be uninterrupted. Highlight says that people should think of Roll as being a messaging app, not a social network — it takes time for the service to index all the photos.

If you don’t want to pull from your main camera roll album, you can select other albums as well. Perhaps you have one specifically from a trip you’d only want to share with your friends outside of a social network. Roll gives you that type of control. However, from what I can see now, there’s no way for you to target what photos you share to specific contacts. If you upload a photo from your trip to South by Southwest, for example, it will be seen by all your Roll friends, including business contacts, family, etc.


One might think about why Roll was released by Highlight. What compelled the company to go this route and develop an adjacency to its core application? Remember, Highlight came about in 2012 during the “location wars” that many claimed would take place at South by Southwest. And yes, it did have its 15 minutes of fame, but what about it really excited people? Is the release of Roll a sign of the company’s struggle or pivot? It appears quite the contrary…the company looks to still be fixated on the notion of creating shared experiences that are “real-time, fun, and authentic“. You started to see this with the core application where you found out who was nearby you using GPS and the app’s proximity sensor. Then you could organize flash events by quickly setting up events based on Highlight users near you. Now, in continuation of that sharing aspect, Roll will let you pass along photos to others — almost making it seem like they’re right there with you.

But isn’t this based on Banjo, a one-time competitor to Highlight? There is some similarities but fundamentally they’re very much two different. Highlight is still about creating shareable and perhaps more intimate moments — serendipity, perhaps. But with Banjo, there’s less intimacy as you’re sharing with the public (but you could share with a smaller group). Here’s the philosophy behind why Highlight wants Roll to be in existence:

Roll was not designed to help you pick the top 3 photos of the 40 you took. It’s for sharing the other 37…and for getting the photos your friends took of you.

But while this makes sense, the early version of Roll assumes that you will be with your contacts throughout all of time — is there going to be any list or segmentation feature being added soon? Also, how does it overcome other apps like Facebook’s Slingshot, Cluster, and others?


So was there anything wrong with the Highlight model? Should we view Roll as being a pivot? Company CEO Paul Davison answered that in a ProductHunt Q&A on Thursday morning saying:

With Highlight, our goal has always been to help you learn about the people around you. With Highlight 1.0, our focus was on surfacing mutual friends and interests. With 2.0, we added new bits of context about what the people around you were doing – like whether they were walking or driving, and what music they were listening to.

With 3.0, we started thinking “Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could learn about people by seeing the photos they’re taking?” Photos have always been a hugely important part of Highlight, and this had just become technically possible to do with iOS 7.

The idea was a bit too crazy to fit into the Highlight product, but it was interesting enough that we kept thinking about it, and eventually decided to prototype it as a separate app. We got a few friends on it and the engagement was really good, so we eventually decided to polish it up and release it.

We love Highlight and still deeply believe in the vision behind it, but I think we’re still in the early days of that space! Back in 2012, battery life was an issue. Social norms still have to be established. Hyperlocal distribution is notoriously tricky. It’s definitely going to happen, but there is still a lot to figure out!

As cliche as it sounds, it must be said that it’s still early to see how Roll will do. And we haven’t even discussed what the possible monetization strategy is for the app, let alone for the company. One could assume that the value that Highlight derives from its products are in the data that it gleans from all the photos, content, and location of each user. Eventually, the company will have a big enough database to know more about our habits, travels, etc just like Foursquare.

Roll is free for people to use on their iOS device, but don’t think that you’ll be able to use it on your iPad though as it requires a telephone number to be associated with. So why not just share photos from your phone? I mean, it’s the one device where most of our photos are anyways, unless you’re one of those people who takes pictures using a tablet…

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