The future of business cards

Ideas to replace paper business cards with something more automated.

Last week a friend ordered a Poken for me as a present. This triggered a discussion over business cards and why we still use plain old paper cards in this digital age.

The problem is an old one: how do you keep in touch with people you recently met? You need some way to exchange personal information in an easy, unobtrusive way. Business cards are a great answer to that problem: they’re fast to exchange, cheap enough to hand out, universally accepted and portable. That’s great but isn’t it a waste of resources to print something digital on a piece of paper and have someone on the other side input the data in a system… again? Not to mention the errors this process generates: how do I interpret a Japanese address, is it his first or last name, I would like a photo as well, have I met this person before?

Pokens and E

Filip argued that Pokens could be the answer. Pokens are small plastic RFID readers. High five your Poken against another one to exchange your details and the next time you log on to your social network sites your profiles will be linked. E uses the same idea but focuses on the software side: you can create multiple profiles and exchange details via an internet-enabled mobile phone. They have an RFID device - called “Connector” - in the pipeline.

While these services look promising, I don’t think it will be the answer. Sure, these things are focused on social networking profiles and may be fine for their target audience but that won’t cut it. Why not?

  1. The other person needs the same service. Do you have a Poken? Or maybe you use E? It’s too much of a hassle and you will look stupid in non geeky situations, so you’ll just hand out your plain old business card.
  2. The device. I suppose a Blackberry could easily exchange a vCard over Bluetooth with all your contact details, yet no one uses it. Is it too technical? Handing out a business card needs to be as simple as possible. With E you need an ‘internet-enabled’ device, how does that hold when you are abroad?
  3. Backward compatibility. I still need my printed business cards as a failsafe measure. Why do I need 2 systems? Right, I’ll only take the cards, it’s the safer choice.
  4. Personalization. A business card is something unique, it’s a way to express yourself (or your company). A plumber’s business card looks different than the card from a graphic designer. Does it look professional, clean or playful?

Disposable RFID business cards

My shot at a possible solution: the disposable RFID business card. It still needs a flashy name and ditto logo but here is the idea: combine the old business card with RFID. What if we embedded an RFID chip in a plain old business card?

  1. Service independent. The RFID could link to a universally accepted standard (e.g., a vCard on your website). You could even think of a subscription system that automatically updates your contact’s details when they change.
  2. Device independent. If my phone has an RFID reader, I could scan the card to add it to my phone’s address book at once, if not, I keep the card and scan it later.
  3. Backward compatible. If you don’t have an RFID reader, you can use the card as you would today. This would be useful starting from day one. With a Poken you need a ‘critical mass’ first.
  4. Personalization. You can still design the card as you see fit.
  5. Digital format. Even a Japanese address would be entered correctly as I don’t need to guess which information is where, we moved this to the software now.

What do we need? I’m not sure but maybe RFID tags are still too expensive to throw away? With prices around 50¢. It’s still a little too expensive if you add the price of the business card. RFID chips are designed to be thrown away (look at packaging) so I suppose prices will drop. People also need an RFID reader but that’s just a matter of time. More companies sell RFID readers: Violet and tikitag amongst them.

What do you think? Will we replace business cards soon and if so, what will the successor look like?

Read more