Disrupting business cards… again

There is an inherent simplicity in certain actions that we do every day that is tempting to replace with apps. The discussion this week around in-store purchase options made mobile payments a hot topic. After all, swiping a credit card in a store is not very difficult to do, which means that the usability requirements for a mobile payment system that will be highly adopted are high: it has to be easier to use than swiping a card. It also has to be as or more secure. These are the two main reasons Apple Pay has been widely praised and CurrentC mostly derided.

I love my Moo cards and give them out to whoever will take them.

I love my Moo cards and give them out to whoever will take them.

Another simple action is the exchange of business cards. It’s a very easy way to transfer contact information but while the action itself is fast (just hand over a card) the activity around it can be tedious: printing out cards, sometimes different cards for different events, making sure those cards have up-to-date information, taking those cards along, and finally storing the information from cards you received while trying to remember more information about the new contact, such as what they look like.

To meet that challenge, About.me released a new app today called Intro. Sadly it’s only available on iOS so I have to rely on reviews as opposed to checking it out myself… but I digress. About.me’s goal is to “disrupt the business card” by replacing it with an app. After all “you don’t always have a business card with you, but you always have your phone,” said Tony Conrad, the founder of about.me. From what I’ve seen, I really like what they’ve done:

  • Adding a photo. It’s rare to see a business card with a photo (too pretentious?) but it an integral part of phone contacts and it helps remember that person.
  • Sharing different contact info with different people. This is a great idea if only for differentiating between work and personal email and phone information.
  • Tracking who has my information is useful and helps with the follow up.

I’d also suggest a few future features that could help:

  • Date, location and occasion are bits of information that are extremely useful in remembering a person and why we wanted their information in the first place. Date and location can be entered automatically and the user can enter a “limited time” occasion tag that can be added to all cards received on a certain day.
  • By exchanging info on a phone, there’s an extra moment to add a note to the new contact, further helping remember who they are. Date and occasion are two bits that are missing from paper card exchange.

All these are wonderful features and great advantages but they solve the peripheral problems: what happens before and after a card is exchanged. The challenge is to provide all those features and a seamless interaction on the phone. And by seamless it shouldn’t require the recipient to download an app to receive the information because at that point the exchangers will revert to a paper card. About.me’s site doesn’t give out any technical information about the exchange but imagine if the receiving user could receive the information at the event and download the app to view it with only later?

Bottom line: it feels like the business card should be dead yet anyone who has done any networking in the past year still carries them around. It’s the simplicity of the exchange that keeps it alive and any digital solution has to match that. Maybe that’s why many digital alternatives have faltered.



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