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Glancee's Vaccari gives SXSW overview of social discovery apps

The co-founder and CEO of Glancee was tapped for a last-minute talk about the apps, which are a hot topic at the conference

Social discovery apps, which alert users to potential social contacts in their proximity, are hot at this year's South by Southwest Interactive conference, so organizers tapped Andrea Vaccari of Glancee to give a last-minute overview of them.

Vaccari, the co-founder and CEO of Glancee, which ranked high on Mashable's buzz meter late Saturday afternoon, discussed Highlight, Sonar, and Banjo, which will participate in SXSW's accelerator competition.

"This has the potential to become really big," Vaccari said, citing investor interest. Social discovery could become as big as social networking, some people believe, "because it's sort of the natural extension."

But rather than whipping up more hype around social discovery, Vaccari pointed to a number of challenges with the apps.

Interest at SXSW is not representative of how popular the apps will be, because conference participants have come with the specific intention of meeting new people who share their interests, he said. So it is an open question how social discovery will fare among those who are less tech-friendly and more concerned about privacy.

Challenges include how the apps determine who shares interests, how they help facilitate real-world meetings "without being creepy," and and how detailed location information should be used to encourage conversation while still keeping users, especially females, safe, he said.

Social discovery apps will likely provide advertisers with new and more personal ways of reaching people, increasing the chance that the apps will have staying power. For instance, Vaccari mentioned a "virtual concierge" feature, in which a user could receive a personal message from a salesperson in a nearby store. The feature would "create a connection between a person and the brand via the person working in the store," he said. "We think that's very powerful."

Glancee and Highlight keep constant track of their users, while Sonar and Banjo draw location data from status updates or check-ins on other social networks. Such features can be valuable to advertisers.

"Continuous location offers a lot to advertisers," he said.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

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