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Sitting on my desk is a pile of at least 200 business cards. I’d like to store the information online then recycle the paper.

That’s easier said than done. It shouldn’t be.

CardScan can do it…

Six years ago I wrote about the CardScan 500 from Cortex Technology for the Sydney Morning Herald. It wasn’t new, the device I used first sold in 1999. For heavens sake, it worked with Windows 95.

CardScan is a range of small scanners designed to read business cards. It came with smart OCR software able to make enough sense of the information on the cards to automatically fill-in the fields in an online address book.

I could buy a CardScan, the product is still available and at $US160, the price isn’t bad.

… CardScan rejected

CardScan wouldn’t be a good idea. When I had the device it sat on my desk unused for weeks at a time, eventually I put in the cupboard so it would stop gathering dust. Getting it out for a single card wasn’t worth the effort, in the end it would get used every three or four months. It made sense when it was shared in a busy office.

There must be a simpler way

I’m on a mission to simplify my life, that means fewer devices, not more. It would be better to use one of the devices I already have: desktop scanner, Android smart phone or iPad. All should be capable of scanning and reading cards.

All promise card scanning. None deliver.

Scanner. Desktop scanners can easily capture card images. I’ve PaperPort 11 and OmniPage, they can OCR the information, but I need to manually cut and paste fields into a database. This  would work if I wasn’t so lazy. Scrub that, the effort involved isn’t worth the gain.

Android phone: At least a dozen Android apps promise to scan, interpret and file business cards, non of them work as promised with my phone, which is only five months old and more than powerful enough. I don’t think it is a hardware problem. The apps I’ve seen to date simply aren’t up to the job. To be fair, I haven’t tried every Android business card reading app. Spending on software in this category feels like throwing money away. There are free applications which are lures for paid apps, none are alluring enough.

iPad: Apart from anything else, it feels wrong snapping business cards with the iPad camera and frankly the task is clumsy. There are iPhone business card scanning apps, which may work with the iPad, in my experience iPhone apps are often frustrating to use. I found one business card reading app in the iTunes store: WorldCard HD at US$15 a pop. Going by my Android experience with WorldCard I’m reluctant to stump up the cash.

Update: A couple of people suggested I try Linkedin’s CardMunch, I’m testing it now.

6 thoughts on “The problem with business cards

  1. When we redesigned and reprinted the entire company’s business cards last year, I insisted we put QR codes on them – on the back, if they were deemed too ugly for the front. Of course the marketing people knew better…

  2. I tried several of the Android apps for scanning business cards, all had issues that made them less than perfect…especially since most only had the option to store the info on the phone or within manual backups.

    Then I realised Evernote could be a good option. Evernote is note taking software (duh!) that synchronises across all platforms, update a note on your phone and it updates on your pc etc…

    I use Evernote for daily todo lists, project planning across several scales and use their tag system for archiving and short term storage. Being an untrusting chap I was using the Evernote chrome extension to capture images of the order summary page whenever placing orders online.

    The Evernote phone app allows notes to be created via camera, take a snapshot of the business card, add any info you require, then tag it. Tagging allows the business cards to be seen together, or not seen at all when viewing all notes. The really cool factor is that so far the system has been able to read all card text apart from the odd logo, so if I search for ‘nikola’ it will find her name in the image of the card it had saved. Even better that the ‘notes’ are archived in the cloud and are accessible from any device.

    Does this leave any holes in your requirements for archiving cards digitally?

  3. I’ve managed to get this working well – the camera on my Android phone does a far better job of capturing business cards.

    Syncing the phone with desktop Evernote is a piece of cake. Once the card is stored another sync sends the image through Evernote’s optical character recognition. It works well, search will find any of the words on the card. That’s great.

    I’m concerned the stored image is 1.5MB. That’s a lot of data, per name. Not too worry storage is cheap nowadays.

    The bust for me is, as it stands, this simply doesn’t integrate with any other address book. Even if I can easily extract OCR data from each image, it still needs to be manually cut and pasted into address book files.

    I suspect moving the address book the other way – into Evernote, will also prove hard.

    So, good experiment, but I don’t think I’m there yet.

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