Let’s say you are attending a TEDx event, where speakers from different fields from all over the world, come to talk about the latest technologies, their achievements, and magnificent ideas. Yes, the talks are great, but we are all here to network, and the time has come! You start going around the room, talking to a few people, and the moment of truth is here, did you bring your business cards?
You are now frantically searching for them in your pockets, your bag, your wallet, but no luck. Isn’t it such an awkward situation where people are handing you their business card and you have to apologize for not having yours? They might think you are stupid for not bringing your cards to TEDx, or that you only have a few and don’t think they are important enough to hand them a card.
It only gets worse when you head back to your office and stare a the pile of cards you got (let’s hope you remember the names of the people you want to get in touch with). What to do now?!
Our post was inspired by a recent article from Scott Kirsner. Scott says:
These little rectangles accumulate in pockets, purses, and desk drawers. In the 20th century, we knew what to do with them: staple them to other pieces of paper and insert those pieces into a device called a Rolodex. The number of Rolodexes on a person’s desk was an indicator of power and influence.
In the 21st century, though, we want phone numbers and e-mail addresses to be digitally accessible. I have been exploring the best ways to accomplish that - by scanning cards, photographing them with a mobile phone, mailing them to someone else to deal with, or trying to avoid exchanging cards entirely. The only strategy I have eschewed is typing the information in myself.
What I personally do is take a photo of the card, email it to myself with the contact’s name and company in the subject line. Absurdly manual, and I need a better solution.
Thanks to Scott’s diligent research, we have options:
CardMunch (it’s free):
Unfortunately, it’s only available for the iPhone, with no plans announced for an Android version. Given a decent picture of a business card, CardMunch not only returns perfect data in the proper fields, but it also tries to find the person’s profile on LinkedIn, the business networking site. (LinkedIn bought the company in January 2011.) The app gives you the ability to connect with the person via LinkedIn, and also to export their contact info to your iPhone’s address book. CardMunch doesn’t bother trying to automatically recognize the text on the card; instead it sends the digital image to an army of self-employed typists around the world who act as your outsourced secretaries in exchange for a few pennies per card. To ensure accuracy, each card is typed in by as many as four workers, and the results compared. CardMunch promises a 24-hour turnaround time, though the actual results can be much quicker.
ScanBizCards (priced at $6.99):
It first tries to decipher the text on a card. Then, you can either make the corrections and fill in any missing data, or you can request that someone else do it for you. (The app comes with a couple of free transcription credits; after that, transcriptions cost 18 cents per card.) When the app failed to notice that a person’s office was in Cambridge, and missed the company’s name because it was printed as a swirly logo, I requested a transcription. It came back within 10 minutes, with everything entered perfectly.
CamCard (priced at $6.99):
It doesn’t include the human transcription option. Both CamCard and ScanBizCards back up a copy of your data on their secure websites, and they also both offer free versions of their apps that have limited functionality.
You toss the business cards you would like to have digitized into an envelope, mail them to the company, and they scan and correct them for you. You can then download a file from CloudContacts’ website that can be imported into whatever software you use for managing your contacts. (CloudContacts will even transcribe notes you have written on the back of a card - as long as they are legible.) The company charges $29.95 to digitize 100 cards.
The challenge here is accumulation:
If you keep up with cards and scan them as you get them, any of the mobile apps will probably work just fine. If you let them accumulate and don’t have time to process them, it’s hard to beat the CloudContacts solution.
Scott and Sid Viswanathan (co-founder of CardMunch) both agree:
That paper business cards may be like handshakes - a central and ineradicable part of the ritual of meeting someone new. “We’ve been very focused on not breaking the social protocol of exchanging business cards,’’ says Viswanathan, who is now a product manager at LinkedIn. “Even though the mobile device is becoming the center of your contact universe, the new Rolodex, it still seems like the most frictionless way to exchange information today is the business card.’’
What do you think? Will the business card be obsolete?
To read the Scott Kirsner article, click here.
UPDATE: CardFlick is free for its first week (9/12-9/17). It has already signed up over 7K users - and it’s Monday morning. Off to a hot start!
In an earlier post on this blog, I mentioned the particularly sticky technological and behavioral problem of replacing the paper business card. Many have tried, none has unequivocally succeeded. I speculated back then that a better way might come along, but could be a long way off given the current options profiled in the New York Times and elsewhere.
However, a new entrant named CardFlick, may well challenge that assertion in the short term. CardFlick joined the Apple App Store on September 7, and is distinguishing itself with a silky-smooth design and an engaging new way of exchanging data. A quick look at the Dribble profile for the app reveals how good the “cards”, developed in cooperation with third-party designers, look. CardFlick is launching with quite a few designs, and planning to add greatly to the options in the near future.
The key value CardFlick provides is an engaging, low-effort way to swap data with contacts you meet face-to-face. Rather than a somewhat impersonal vCard on an email (very BlackBerry user), you “flick” the card with your thumb, watch it disappear from your screen, and reappear as a card on the other user’s screen. Now your new contacts can save your information in their directory.
The design is smooth, as you can see in this video:
I think one of the things I like best about this product is it’s not an impersonal, enterprise product built for and by the corporate set. Founder Ketan Anjaria ran San Francisco design firm KidBombay for a decade before getting to work on CardFlick, and he’s assembled a team and advisors who seem to be professionals in user experience and design. To me, that means they are taking a knowledgeable approach to one of the key questions about mobile business card apps: can you get people to use them repeatedly because they’re easier and more fun than paper, and more personal than attaching a vCard to an email?
That value proposition will be the one CardFlick has to address to achieve real traction in the event networking space. To be a common networking tool, an app like this can’t be downloaded to your phone once and then deleted. These tools have to be not only engaging but familiar, so that when I want to send you my info you can pull out your phone which also already has CardFlick installed. Achieving “critical mass” at any given networking event will be a major priority for CardFlick on the road to widescale adoption.
It’s easy to see ways that conference organizers could add CardFlick to their event, either officially or unofficially. During the registration process, you might include a link to the CardFlick app so that users have ample time to set up their contact information and carry it with them to the event. Another placard at the sign-in desk for the event, and you’ll probably have converted most interested parties at the event.
A TechCrunch article speculated that CardFlick could partner with event organizers to offer a branded app for specific conferences’ networking sessions. However, I’ve found that custom-developed apps for events always end up as a hassle and compromise, and would advise conference attendees to use CardFlick, or any app they choose, as an official partner rather than trying to contract for a custom solution.
If the app is good enough to be used at your event, it deserves the exposure to a user base that may use the app frequently in the future. Merely being introduced to a great product at your event will be enough association to keep the attendee coming back. The team is dreaming big and wants to be that app everyone at a conference will use to exchange their information, and it’s easy to see how much help it could be to conferences it will be if they achieve that goal.
CardFlick launches to find a multitude of business professionals weary of reaching into their pockets for cards. But those same users may be perfectly ready to reach into their pockets to pay for a better way.