In the age of Facebook and Twitter, the old-fashioned business card lives on. But there’s nothing out-dated about the next-generation of business cards, most of which are smart phone or Web applications or hardware-software combos that people can use to swap contact information and social network profiles.
Here’s a look at some of the newest:
It looks like a toy, but the miniature character with the oversized hand hides a USB drive that stores a name, address, phone number, social networking accounts and other traditional business card information in an encrypted personal ID number. Meet another Poken user and swap information by pressing the infrared sensors embedded in the hands together to give each other a “high four.” Plug the USB drive into a computer and it brings up a Web browser and downloads any new contact data into the user’s account on the Poken website.
CEO Stephane Doutriaux created the device while finishing MBA school in Switzerland in 2008. Since then he’s raised $2 million, moved the company’s headquarters to Silicon Valley, signed up distributors in 25 countries and struggled to keep up with orders from places like Germany and The Netherlands that have gone gaga over the tiger, geisha, panda, alien and 20-odd other Poken characters.
In the United States, Poken was completely out of stock in late May, forcing fans like Kelly Guimont, a Portland, Ore., tech support specialist and avowed lover of all things digital, to wait until sometime in June for new shipments to arrive. “I want a Poken so bad I don't even know what to do with myself,” Guimont says. “They are so the cutest things ever.” They may be cute, but they serve a real purpose and unlike some smart phone-based business card apps, Pokens don’t need a constant 3G connection to work, Doutriaux says. On the horizon: a Poken convention badge.
To set itself apart from other digital business-card apps, DropCard is retooling itself to appeal to salespeople and other hardcore business types -- think of it as the LinkedIn of business-card apps. According to company founder Tal Raviv, once the revamped service goes live later this month, members can log onto the DropCard website to see which parts of their profile information new contacts clicked on, data they can use to do follow up phone calls or e-mails. “We decided to sell not the technology, but the benefits,” says Raviv, who started the company in 2008 with backing from a Philadelphia incubator while an undergraduate engineering student at University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in May.
When the new DropCard comes online, three tiers of service will be available: a free, basic level for sending five DropCards a month; a $5 level for up to 25 cards, and a $10 level for unlimited service. Rather than handle marketing and sales itself, DropCard is pairing up with small businesses like print shops to act as resellers. “It adds value to the (print) business cards they provide,” Raviv says.
Until she can get her hands on a Poken, Guimont is making due with Bump, a free application on iTunes that lets two iPhone users tap or “bump” their respective mobile phone screens together to swap contact information.
While not specifically a business card substitute, this software application for noting things you find on the Web or taking pictures of them with your mobile phone can act like one. EverNote uses optical character recognition to parse text from an image and store it so it can be retrieved at a later date.
Portland tech enthusiast Guimont uses EverNote instead of Bump to swap contact information with people she meets who don’t use an iPhone. “With EverNote on the iPhone I pick up a business card, take a picture and put it back. I can’t remember the last time I picked up and kept a business card,” she says.
The 16-year-old company, now part of Newell-Rubbermaid, helped invent the business card reader business. Since then, CardScan’s product line has grown to encompass a variety of scanners and software applications for individuals and small businesses. One of the newest: a Mac package that includes a scanner and contact management software that debuted last fall.
Other business-card applications:
Contxt -- Transmits social network profiles and contact information via smart phones.