Despite the promise of a paperless universe run entirely on mobile phones and laptops and tablets, the humble business card is still with us. When we’re out in the real world, the fastest way to reliably get our contact information to another human being is to hand them a piece of paper with our info printed on it. Business cards don’t crash or require an upgrade, or autocorrect our names into gobbledygook.

But the challenge then becomes making use of the information we gather by way of business cards. The proverbial shoebox full of business cards that gets ever more full. The stack of cards from the last conference. The loose card you picked up by chance after a short conversation at a coffee shop.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the percentage of cards that I’m handed that make it into a usable digital format is lower than I’d like. But recently, Wendy Forsythe of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate tipped me off to an iPhone app that solves this problem: Cardmunch.

Cardmunch is an iPhone app (a BlackBerry app is coming soon, according to the company’s site). It uses the phone’s camera to take a picture of the business card. That image is then uploaded to the Cardmunch server, where actual human beings transcribe the information.

Despite the promise of a paperless universe run entirely on mobile phones and laptops and tablets, the humble business card is still with us. When we’re out in the real world, the fastest way to reliably get our contact information to another human being is to hand them a piece of paper with our info printed on it. Business cards don’t crash or require an upgrade, or autocorrect our names into gobbledygook.

But the challenge then becomes making use of the information we gather by way of business cards. The proverbial shoebox full of business cards that gets ever more full. The stack of cards from the last conference. The loose card you picked up by chance after a short conversation at a coffee shop.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the percentage of cards that I’m handed that make it into a usable digital format is lower than I’d like. But recently, Wendy Forsythe of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate tipped me off to an iPhone app that solves this problem: Cardmunch.

Cardmunch is an iPhone app (a BlackBerry app is coming soon, according to the company’s site). It uses the phone’s camera to take a picture of the business card. That image is then uploaded to the Cardmunch server, where actual human beings transcribe the information.

Finally, the card data is downloaded back to your phone along with the image of the business card itself.

Most other card readers try to use machine recognition to figure out what’s written on the business card. If you’ve used any of these you know that you may spend as much time correcting the results as you would’ve spent just typing the data into your contact manager in the first place. Using human beings gives far better results, and Cardmunch does that.

Once the card data is in your phone in the Cardmunch app, you can import it into your contacts if you’d like. From the Cardmunch website you can export your list of "Cardmunched" contacts as CSV or VCF formats.

Another handy trick with Cardmunch is that you can immediately send a LinkedIn request (LinkedIn recently bought Cardmunch) and a follow-up e-mail. So all that post-conference follow-up can happen much more quickly and painlessly.

Caveats
Cardmunch is awesome. I’ve tried a lot of the other systems for dealing with cards and this one really is the best. That said, it isn’t perfect.

Because humans are doing the transcription, there are sometimes mistakes. Be sure to check your card data against the info the transcribers have returned. Especially for cards with complicated graphics or interesting design elements.

Also, make sure that the information returned is complete. I received card data back once that had only the person’s name and phone number — no company or e-mail or anything. So be sure to check for completeness.

If you get data back that isn’t accurate or complete, you can reject the card from the iPhone app. There isn’t a way to do this from the website. In fact, the process for rejecting a card is a little more cumbersome than I would like so just be prepared for that.

Even so, double-checking the data and rejecting the few cards that aren’t transcribed properly still takes a lot less time than entering the data in yourself.

I’d also like to see better options for getting cards out of Cardmunch and into the systems I use for managing contacts. In particular, I’d like to be able to tag cards into groups for export.

For example, at the end of a conference I’d like to make sure each contact I add from that conference includes the fact that I met them at the conference.

I have a workaround for this, but given the nature of customer relationship strategies it probably works for me only. If you have specific needs for how you get groups into your contact systems, be prepared to get creative with exports and how your customer relationship management tool imports.

Again, all that said, I haven’t found a better way to get data off of a business card into my machine in less time.

I also encourage you to check out the article on Cardmunch by Reggie Nicolay over at MyTechOpinion, which includes a video of 10 business cards being added to Cardmunch in about a minute.

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