Bumping, Poking, and Business Cards

By Edward Cone  |  Posted Friday, April 22, 2011 17:04 PM

by Tim Moran

Do you still use business cards? Real, printed business cards? I do.

Which brings me to a headline that caught my eye on MIT's Technology Review site: "CardCloud Spells the End of Physical Business Cards." The deck reads: "In a world in which we expect everything to be digital, and all digital objects to be archived and searchable forever, what is the role of a paper card?"

Good question.

CardCloud appears to be the latest in a rather long line of digital business cards, or, at least, digital information-sharing ideas. They have names like BusinessCard2, Contxts, DubMeNow, and Poken, which I have had some experience with. How they work differs, but, in the end, they are all about not having to search through your pockets or laptop bag or wallet to retrieve that last tattered card to hand over to someone with whom you want to maintain contact.

Do these digital doppelgangers work?

According the Tech Review article, CardCloud does--sort of. Its aim is to make the physical card obsolete yet offer a digital version of the business-card-exchange ritual. It's done with a smartphone, the ubiquity of which should make its use easy. On the plus side, only the card-giver needs the app, for the card itself is sent by email. But there's this multistep "bumping" process that looks rather cumbersome and, frankly, awkward. (Although there is a video with the article that makes the process look so nice and efficient--like every infomercial ever made.)

If using it for real is anything like using the Poken device, it is, in fact, quite awkward. At a conference I attended last year, the participants were provided with a Poken to exchange information. We all thought it was the coolest idea, and just about everyone tried to Poken others. In the end, what with registering and setup and all--not to mention the silliness of the act itself--it became more trouble than it was worth. But maybe that was just me and a few hundred others.

The physical business card does seem low-tech and outdated, but there is a certain sophistication and gravitas to the exchange of same that grown men and women in high-powered positions don't mind doing it. Bumping phones or poking Pokens might be great for college students and tweens, but not for CIOs and CEOs who might want to network in some serious business way.

So, yes, we denizens of the digital realm want all of our information "archived and searchable forever." But my gut and experience tell me that these digital business cards might take a generation or so to find real business users who are ready to bump and poke.