Nearly a decade ago, South by Southwest was known as a launchpad for internet phenomena: The annual U.S. tech and arts festival was where Twitter Inc. broke out and where masses of 20-somethings made group messaging apps a thing.
In the spring of 2012, the king of the conference was Highlight. Paul Davison, then 32, had released the app six weeks earlier with a proposition that was scary yet intriguing. It tracked users’ whereabouts to show them profiles of people nearby with similar interests or shared connections. For that week in Austin, Texas, everyone wanted to try it. Phones buzzed and buzzed and buzzed with Highlight notifications. Venture capitalists wrote checks for millions of dollars. But within a year, the app was deemed too invasive to go mainstream and had essentially flatlined.