Talking tech since 2003

Do you want to meet random people on the street?  I’d say that most of the time the answer is no, but that isn’t stopping one company from trying to bring a facial recognition app into the “mainstream” with the release of its Google Glass app.  The app, NameTag (currently in beta for Glass), poses the following question on its website: “Why leave meeting amazing people up to chance?”

The company’s slogan? “Your photo shares you.”  Right now the app is pretty limited as not many people are using it, however, it does recognize sex offenders from the National Sex Offender Registry.  Yep, 450,000 photos from the database are being used to provide some security for Glass owners who want to stay safe.  I’m not knocking safety (in fact I think that’s a better idea for this type of app), but the current possible use case for this app is the exact opposite of what they promote on their website.  I guess that’s why the company is also planning to implement similar technology for profile photos on PlentyOfFish, OkCupid, and

In fact, NameTag creator Kevin Tussy says that “People will soon be able to login to and choose whether or not they want their name and information displayed to others. It’s not about invading anyone’s privacy; it’s about connecting people that want to be connected. We will even allow users to have one profile that is seen during business hours and another that is only seen in social situations. NameTag can make the big, anonymous world we live in as friendly as a small town.”

Here’s the thing, I’m a very sociable guy, but I think apps like this one are going to have a very hard time gaining traction, especially when they are marketed as a way to meet people.  Robert Scoble recently wrote a blog post about why he got Highlight (the app for iOS that shows random people who are nearby with similar interests) so wrong.  Scoble thought Highlight would be hugely popular and a massive success, which to date, hasn’t been the case.  He writes, “… we simply don’t want to meet random people. If we did want to do that we’d just walk up to random people in the street and introduce ourselves.”  He then goes on to discuss how originally Highlight was full of interesting people who were just like him, but then as it grew, the quality of people “degraded” — in other words, the people on Highlight weren’t people he was interested in meeting/being friends with.

But how do you fix this “problem” of people not wanting to meet complete strangers? Here’s Scoble’s suggestion: “Instead of bringing random people into my life, bring only people my existing friends have spent at least an hour with.”  Makes sense and it is completely doable with Smart Bluetooth–Bluetooth Low Energy–or what Apple calls iBeacons (we’ll save the specifics of how it works for another time).  But nonetheless, that seems like a much better idea than meeting some random person who may have a few similar interests.

If, however, you are insistent about making an app that can identify people, perhaps you should consider turning the tables a bit and making an app that tells you to stay away, very far away, from someone.  That would be incredible.  “See that guy over? Stay away!” and if he starts getting too close the app starts yelling “WARNING!”  Just a thought.

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