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Exchanging Digital Contact Info Is Still Awkward

I opened a Quora thread about why someone hasn’t built a dominant product or service in the digital business card space. And earlier today I read about how Bump is narrowing its product to focus on contact and photo sharing. I’ve been using a bunch of other products for digital business cards. Some of them, like Cardflick, have really nice design and look great. Others, like QuickCard are barebones but efficient. Some, such as Hello from Evernote, have really great concepts around helping you keep track of people you meet by taking advantage of some of the features on your smartphone (for a good read on Evernote Hello, read this article on RWW). But none of them have taken off in my network or become terribly dominant in my everyday business and social interactions. But there’s so many reasons I wish things were better – I’d like to go all digital if I could for the following reasons:

1. You never run out of digital business cards – no more “I’m out of cards at the moment” incidents.
2. A smartphone digital contact sharing service can take advantage of info on your phone (particularly location and your calendar) to annotate information about the context in which you meet someone.
3. By going all digital, you can more quickly get that person’s contact information into whatever digital system you use, taking out the step of scanning or manually entering contact info.

I’m convinced the reasons this hasn’t happened are more socio-cultural, not technical. A few thoughts:

1. Exchanging paper business cards works well because the protocol for exchanging them is well established – it’s a ritual. One really awesome thing about paper business cards is that the global protocol for exchanging them is well understood. Put aside any cultural differences about how cards are presented or handled – nobody is shocked when you start a business meeting by exchanging paper-based contact information with the other people in the meeting.

None of the digital alternatives I’ve tried have that feature. Some of them, like Evernote Hello, suggest taking a picture of the person with whom you’re meeting. Sorry, that’s kind of awkward. Also, there is the fear of embarrassment around asking someone to exchange contact info on a service that he or she does not use. In many ways, trying to introduce a tool that that is foreign actually breaks the flow of getting a meeting started or facilitating a quick exchange of contact info. It introduces friction into what could otherwise be a frictionless process. And the more people in the meeting or room, the more friction you have in trying to get everyone on the same platform.

2. There is so much digital information about people out on social networks that the synchronous part of contact exchange should be short and the heavy lifting should be done in the background. The one benefit of digital contact exchange is that you can use all of the information on the web to augment contact information. For example, if I add someone to my contact list via email address, why not go out and figure out if that person has a LinkedIn account, Twitter handle, etc – Connected does some of that already and I find it extremely useful. Some services seem to miss the point that contact exchange should be quick – the more typing or data entry I need to do synchronously (as in when I’m meeting the person), the more friction you’re introducing. Just get me to share / exchange the minimum amount of info needed to seed the system.

I remain optimistic that someone will crack this nut and crack it soon. And when they do, I hope the market tips in favor of something that most, if not all, people use.

As always, you can leave comments below or follow me / message me on Twitter @chudson.

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