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An old friend reached out to me via LinkedIn today asking if I had any contacts or information towards folks who do some branded promotional items. That’s not usually something within my realm, but I did remember that at a recent networking/information session for the DNC that I attended for another friend, that I did come across some folks that did this kind of thing. Their business cards, along with about a hunderd or more others from other events, were in one of my bags, inside of an envelope, waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. You see, the folks whom I’ve already assigned some prominence to are in my mobile already, with a few otthers sitting in LinkedIn. But, the rest, really, they are in that envelope – or worse, still in emails, with little thought of what to do with them outside of those domains. I need a CRM, but first, I need to get those contacts whom aren’t digital into that format so that whatever CRM that I use can actually be used.

I’m not the only person that I know who deals with this. A number of my associates and friends have this issue as well after conferences, workshops, and trips. For all the ettique that handing someone your business card is, its a hassle and then some to have to translate that into a digital format so that you can get them in the basket with the rest of the lot.

And besides getting them into the lot, there’s just that issue of having to do this many times one at a time. Sure, if I were sitting on a laptop, I could purchase a document scanner with business card scanning software. Or, I could go the fancy route and just purchase a dedicated business card scanner. But, neither of those fit for me – I’ve got a mobile and an iPad. That’s just not going to work. I need something that’s going to be able to take the image of a set of cards from my mobile, allow for some editing and categorizing, and then gives me the option of exporting the contacts into my mobile, create a CSV which can be used by a desktop or web PIM (Outlook, Yahoo, etc.), or connects to a CRM like Salesforce and imports the contacts there (with those tags, categories, etc. intact).

So, I sat down with Tactilis after battling this over in my head for about 30 minutes and came up with this idea of what I’m calling The Business Card Collector. Basically an application that can take a static image of business cards, allow for some editing, and do this importing.

What Does This Look Like In Practice:
If the image on this post is not readable, I would just tell you to basically follow what you see in the pictures and I’ll explain it again here.

  1. Align the cards on a table or some kind of flat and blank-colored surface (or even mount them on a whiteboard)
  2. Snap a picture of the grid of cards with your mobile phone (I would probably say that using the Automatic settings is best here, unless you are used to snapping text, then you’d want to adjust for contrast, lighting, and macro measurements)
  3. After the picture is snapped, you get a prompt from the application asking you to confirm the contact details on all of the cards that you recognize. Here, you’d do things like redraw marquees around cards to ensure that you got the right information, update images/information based on what you know/see on the actual card, etc.
  4. In the next major screen, you’d be asked to categorize and tag the new contacts that you’ve created (here’s where you’d add what event they are all from, geographies, flagging for return contact, etc.)
  5. In the final screen you’d set an export destination (mobile’s address book, emailed or saved to device CSV file, or send to authenticated CRM service)

About that last step, the export destination. I’ve had some additional thoughts about this:

  • I’m thinking that since you’d be on a mobile, that you’d have some kind of select/mark screen where you can just checkbox beside the contacts you’d wish to export and then select what service you’d export them to.
  • Many mobiles might not be able to do a batch import, so, for each item you’ve marked and set the destination as mobile, perhaps it would simply leave a vCard of each of those contacts in your Messaging/SMS app in the Draft folder (with a notification that it has done so)
  • Exporting to a CRM isn’t probably a problem, depending on your access permissions. I wonder if some/most CRMs have an add-update-but-no-delete feature, and how they would handle merging contacts with similar names – which could potentially happen if a team of people are coming from an event, use this app, and have the same final destination. Whose contact edit/add would win (that would need to be determined by the rules in the CRM)

I’ve not liked the idea of passing business cards for a long time because of this specific issue. That’s one of the reasons why my business card has a QR code which points to a downloadable vCard, and that I also have a QR code and URL which point to the same downloadable vCard on a skin on the back of my mobile. I don’t like the idea of having to do this extra management if you don’t have to. But, if you do, there needs to be something better in our hands towards this than simply doing the same scan-one and catalog, or worse, transpose all and go from there.

Now, we could all be neat and just use social networks for our contact cards, and that would mostly solve this. But, yes, there’s that behavors piece that needs to somehow be addressed.

The Behaviors
Many of us use these linear systems to organize and later find information, but we actually start off by orienting them across other contextual modes such as environmental, temporal, and spatial orientation. The thought with this app is that we don’t (completely) get away from the practice of shilling business cards, but we enhance the behavior after the fact to account for how we think and group these contacts before they get into our specalized information systems.

First, we are organizing the cards on a physical pane. Many times, we are reminding arious aspects about the people who gave us the card based on something on the card. By organizing all of the cards together around this shared contextual metaphor, we don’t offer ourselves a chance to lose that association before adding some kind of label that we might/might not remember later.

Secondly, we are making the mobile’s camera an active agent within the process of remembring. I often tell people to take a picture of important documents, parking spaces, and even foods, because there is something in that picture that calls into mind a lot more than what our memories will let us remember.

Next, we are using the mobile as that organizing agent. The editing of the contact could take place on a mobile (or on a tablet, mentioned at the end of this post). But, that means that we can take our time fixing that contact information, or even go about reorganizing contacts (tags, categories) as we have time.

Finally, its plugging into our mobile (immediate use), or into a system that we have around us which is better designed to maintain and follow-up from those contacts to another action.

It happens this way in our minds, moreso than just sitting with the cards on a table in front of us, begging ourselves to remember the context fully, and then getting to a point each year where we just pitch cards until the contact reappears on some social network where its easier to deal with whatever contact information they really wanted to share.

Relevant, Now Is It Doable
This isn’t rocket science. Its a problem we have that should have been solved (and easily) already. Enough people hawking mobile devices and services, and passing of the card, this should be done. But there are only a few apps that have even tried this, and none that I have seen have gone this far.

I’ve got an envelope still sitting on the side. If a developer (or several) wants to build this, let me know the details. I want this now. I’m sure that it would sell quite well on every mobile platform if it were made for others as well.

Extra:
While writing this, I did have the thought that a tablet with decent enough camera could do this kind of app pretty decently. Heck, if I were a group like Xobni or Salesforce, I’d be putting my app developers on that for every prosumer tablet right now.

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