If you've ever returned from a business trip with a stack of business cards, you've no doubt wondered–as you're manually typing in all those names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses–if there's a better way.
It turns out there are lots of better ways. Too many, in fact, and that's the problem. The lack of a standard means that a great solution like the Bump app will only work if the person you're trying to link up with has the app, not to mention an iPhone or Android-based smartphone. You could, of course, use your phone's camera to take a picture of the other person's business card, but that would still require that he or she has a business card in the first place. And after you do that, you'll still have to manually enter the information anyway.
In November, LinkedIn announced an alternative that avoids the lack-of-a-standard conundrum by essentially digitizing an analog card. As the video below outlines, the CardMunch iPhone app works by capturing the image of a business card, recognizing it and then saving it on your phone as a contact. In another nice perk, LinkedIn also integrates that person's information from his or her profile on the network.
Sid Viswanathan, a product manager at LinkedIn, says that CardMunch began with the pragmatic realization that the paper business card is not going away any time soon. "We understand that business cards still exist," he says. "They're still used out in the field when you're attending conferences." Viswanathan says that 10 billion business cards are printed annually–that's more than one for every person on Earth.As great as LinkedIn's solution is to the business card dilemma, you'll note that CardMunch still requires one of the parties to have a standard business card. It's also quite possible that you will run into someone who doesn't have the CardMunch app and will still need a paper card.
On the other hand, if you're in the tech industry, the type of business card you use says something about you. Perhaps this isn't the case now, but some time down the road, handing out a paper card will have all the cachet of an @aol.com e-mail address. Viswanathan says that, with 130 million members, that's not a big issue for LinkedIn. "We maintain that the social protocol of exchanging business cards is still intact," he notes.
There are a few good options for businesspeople who want to set aside their business cards, once and for all. The following two-step solution will allow you to do just that:
First, use CardMunch to capture business card information that's presented to you. This way, you don't have to ever take a business card home again. (Of course, you might have to take one if you're not getting good reception on your phone, but once you're in range, you can process the card and pitch it.)
If you want to present your business card, meanwhile, there's another free app called Cardcloud. As outlined in the video below, Cardcloud lets you create a digital card that you can e-mail to your prospective contact. Cardcloud also boasts LinkedIn integration–new users can sign in via their LinkedIn profile. (You can also use your Facebook account.)
That's the dream, at least. In my own experience, I could not, despite multiple attempts using my LinkediIn and Facebook data, create an account on Cardcloud. Nor could I create one manually. Renato Valdés Olmos, co-founder and CEO of Cardcloud, says that the iPhone app had "a little bug" in mid-January, when I tried to register. He said the bug should be fixed "within the next few weeks."
On the other hand, I found CardMunch worked exactly as advertised, connecting me to my LinkedIn account on the first try. And if you don't have an account, the app directs you to start one, which is is a great recruiting tool for the brand. The app also recognized my paper cards and quickly integrated that information as well. If CardMunch could emulate Cardcloud's functionality (on a good day), then LinkedIn will offer a great end-to-end solution. But when Cardcloud gets up and running again, the two will do just fine. Despite that, it would be unrealistic to expect everyone to go completely digital. We'll just have to accept that paper business cards will be with us for a little while longer.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto