By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven column in Upstate Business Journal on May 2, 2013
Technology has changed every aspect of how we do business except one - the ritual sharing of a 2X3 rectangle of paper we know as the business card.
The first really new business card technologies will probably be driven by near-field communications (NFC). If you are an iPhone owner, you thought you'd have this by now. But instead Google mashed the Apple and you'll now find quite a few Android phones and devices (as well as some new Blackberry models) with NFC capability.
Online marketing company Moo is one of the first to be ready to take advantage of NFC for business cards. Their NFC-enabled cards are embedded with a read-write chip. You can customize - and change - the information you store on your card like contact info, or course, but also videos, maps, presentations, or maybe a product portfoliio.
But the beauty of the card is you don't have to hand it out. You simply tap it on the receiver’s NFC-enabled smartphone and information is transferred. And using an NFC app, you can continually update the information you want to distribute as your business - or your messaging - changes. The chip inside the phone does the execution so there’s no need for a specific app.
Mobile NFC has the potential to significantly change how we do things - enabling secure transactions without cash or credit cards. And information communication and transfer based on proximity.
For business people with a pocket full of cards, it could be the first real tech improvement on one of the oldest printed marketing materials in history. Business cards began in the 17th century when tradesmen would present a cross between a business card and a brochure to prospective customers. It evolved to a calling card in the 19th century (You can get a look at Freud's calling card at http://goo.gl/8OMkg).
In the 1800s, calling cards carried only your name, but today we need to keep track of your basic contact information, your social media profiles, your web page, photo and maybe even a QR code.
As the resolution and quality of smartphone cameras has improved, hundreds of applications have cropped up to snap the card, transcribe the info, then import the fields into your contacts.
These apps offer a variety of options:
- A few, not many, can handle double-sided cards.
- Some can image and store a QR tag. Others can double as a QR tag reader.
- Some will keep the scanned card in a virtual wallet on your phone.
- A few can automatically connect you to the contact’s social media and send appropriate connection requests.
- At least one will automatically send out a follow up email - or optionally let you make changes to the standard templated text - right from the phone after it is scanned.
- Some offer cloud-based backup and syncing to multiple devices.
- Most apps are free (meaning they are ad-supported), but even those that are paid usually have a free version so you can try them out.
All these options are nice frosting, but optical character recognition (OCR) is where the rubber meets the road. I tested one app on my iPhone that promised best in class OCR. It then presented my company as J.Uorrolio (that's Portfolio to the rest of us). Another completely skipped the company field. Today's cards are often highly designed with graphic logos that are not readable by most OCR engines so the converted cards can be prone to a lot of errors.
If you have to spend several minutes with each card you scan correcting errors, you might as well have typed the information in yourself.
But there are a few apps - like Card Munch, which is owned by LinkedIn - that do just that. You take the picture, submit the card and human transcribers type the information into a database where it is reviewed up to three times - by people. You get a perfectly transcribed card back along with a full LinkedIn profile (if the person has an account) and options to store the contact in your address book, send email or click to call.
Sorry Googlers, but Card Munch is only for iOS devices and you have to have a LinkedIn account to use it. The other potential downside is how long it takes to get the card back. It can be an hour or a day. But for me that's still an improvement over the week's worth of untouched cards that used to live on the top of my desk.