Digitizing the Traditional Business Card

Attending an array of conferences, tweetups, and other social networking events has made me a professional business card collector. I always have the best intention of adding important business card contact info to my address book, but it's a task that's always on the bottom of my to-do list. This is a problem for me, because what is the point of giving out or receiving business cards, if they are most likely going straight into a desk drawer or a filing tray.

For me, contact info is only useful when I can search for it on my computer. I need to be able to easily find who I am looking for by simply browsing my address book for keywords – like the name of the conference I met them at, or the company they work for that I miraculously remember them telling me about. Most of the time I don't need someone's contact info right after I meet them, it is usually at a later date when there's a real and important reason to reconnect with them. The result, I have a desk full of business cards that do not help me whatsoever in reconnecting with people I've met and chatted with in person.

3638184635_0c0e73ec3f I posted a photo last month after the #140 Character Conference (pictured left) expressing how ridiculousness it is that all the business cards I received were about 5 seconds away from being tossed into my desk drawer, probably to never be looked at again.  I later received a message from Laura Nelson at SHIFT Communications on behalf of The Neat Company offering to send me one of their scanners.  The Neat Company scanners with accompanying software, reads text from business cards, receipts, and documents and imports the info directly into your computer. Of course I said heck yes send me one.

I had to choose between their NeatReceipts or NeatDesk scanners – the former being small in size and less expensive than the latter, which is much larger but can apparently scans items faster than the smaller, more mobile one. I decided on the NeatReceipts (mobile) scanner over the NeatDesk (faster) scanner, mainly because I have very limited desk space, but also because I though it would be useful to bring with me when I travel to conferences and events.

IMG_1909 My thoughts after using the NeatReceipts scanner is that no matter which way you approach it, the process of entering contact info from business cards sucks. However, NeatReciept's is undoubtedly helpful at making the tedious process way more efficient and significantly less painful. The scanner's accompanying software imports scanned text to your computer and automatically organizes the information into a contact form. Even after scanning, there is usually some text info you have to manually enter, because the scanner can't decipher the text or doesn't know where it should go. Even despite the fact it is not a perfect machine, I am definitely going to continue to use it, because it scans and imports text not only from business cards but documents and receipts too, which I have already found really useful. However, my final recommendation would be to shell out the extra money and desk space for the faster NeatDesk scanner, because ultimately the point of these scanners are to help you save precious time when doing manually tedious, time-consuming tasks.

I liken the usefulness of these two products to that of a printer. Without a printer, manually copying large amounts of text from the screen to paper would be a huge time sink. In the same light, even though considering these scanner's are not perfect, they do make copying text from paper to your computer the easiest and most efficient method possible right now. 

This makes me think, how long before it's a common and universal practice that we strictly share business cards digitally? There are some digital business card solutions out there right now like beamME and Drop Card, but it's challenging to adopt these services when most people still want you to simply hand them your business card. I wonder if the traditional business card will ever really become completely extinct?


About Julia Roy


  • Dale Adams says:

    I highly recommend Evernote for this. As it has word recognition and it uses your Webcam to take the picture and even flips in reverse for you. Just something you might want to try.

  • Cardscan does actually work – reliably, and fast.

  • MCCsteve says:

    Hi Julia! Please check out our company http://www.mycontactcard.com We are not only taking business cards digital but we also allow them to connect social networks and have created “microsites” that live within the signature.
    We have a lot of free cards on our site to test out but if you would like a custom card I would be happy to hook you up (no charge of course)

  • I couldn’t agree more. I’m waiting for some very standard and open way to share business cards via my phone. But I haven’t found it yet (tech start ups, help us!!!). I tried going to a conference without business cards and just emailing people from my iphone with details. It didn’t work either. Evernote has helped, but I still would like a solution that is completely paperless. Sometimes taking a photo or scanning a card takes just as long as entering the details into my address book.

  • Matt Haze says:

    Doesn’t that also say something about the relationships we build with others at conventions like that? How many people left a big enough impression on you or had something to offer/help you with that was immediately put into your database? Too many times people just give out cards like it’s water, hoping it will turn into something. If someone builds up a good relationship with me on the spot, they automatically go in my BlackBerry on the spot! That’s when you know it matters!

  • I was stoked when the new OS came for the iPhone. At the bottom of the card is a “Share” button which emails a vCard! Score!!
    Now I am assured an easy integration to anyone’s contact list. If only I could convince the rest of the world to do that for me!

  • Andy Piper says:

    Kind of amazed that you didn’t mention Poken in here.

  • There is a Business card app on the G1 where you just take a picture of the business card and it stores the information in your contacts. etc. im sure they have that for the iphone.

  • Jenn says:

    Thanks for taking NeatReceipts for a spin! I’m an employee was excited to read your post. I personally use it to manage the business cards I accumulate at conferences and tradeshows and it saves me a significant amount of time and drawer space.
    Let me know if you’d like any info or tips on how the application can help create expense reports, manage tax related receipts, and organize documents.

  • Laura Nelson says:

    Thanks for the SHIFT shout out Julia! Glad you enjoyed NeatReceipts… and I saw this a.m. you’re using it for expense reports, too- nice!
    I like your point about the culture of exchanging physical business cards. I think they remain a conventional (maybe even nostalgic?) part of meeting someone, particularly in a business setting… we’ll see how that changes though!

  • Wardell says:

    Another online solution worth checking out is http://contxts.com/, but i think mobile phone developers need to create faster methods of vcard sharing 😀

  • Wil Haslup says:

    Having used various beamable methods of transferring contact information, and played with the mini scanners used to digitize actual cards it seems neither is as intuitive or as simple as the cards they are supposed to supersede. The beamable methods require a device smart enough to have a IR/beam port.
    Cell phones are the most ubiquitous technology around today…even beyond iPhones! Not everyone has a smart phone/pda, but all cell phones have an address book. I’ve never understood why manufacturers can’t use a standard for email/phone addressbook entries like vcard and make a really simple IR or other transfer port on all phones. Even if you couldn’t sync your phone you could beam the vcard to your desktop…and there’d be no need for scanning or having a pda/smartphone.
    …even easier might be a postage size IR scan port on all phones that could read upc, icDMatrix, icQRC, icPDF, icLinear, icMobile graphic codes. If someone didn’t carry a phone able to beam their info they could print cards with these codes and either hand them the card or let them scan it into their phone.

  • Jonathan Lin says:

    I’m a new user of the NeatReceipts scanner, and I love it! It’s different from evernote because it’s more of a business management tool. It scans in receipts, expense reports, and spits out itemized spreadsheets, and even tabulates the taxes for you.
    So I think it’s in a different market than great products like evernote (which is more for notetaking, and organizing thoughts). However, if evernote does do spreadsheets and tabulate expenses, let me know!

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