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Sorting The Business Card Mess

After spending the past week travelling in Paris and Copenhagen where I attended the Reboot8 digital conference I have as usual managed to accumulate a ton of new business cards which I’ll need to find the time to input either directly into my Treo or into Outlook…

I don’t know if it’s just me who gets annoyed about this but plain paper business cards strike me as one of the biggest waste of professional time and money there is.  It’s funny how we pride ourselves as living in the ‘digital age’ and yet nobody seems to have come up with a really simple solution for sharing contact details electronically with the same effectiveness and immediacy as handing someone a plain business card.

I have been thinking about this issue for at least ten years during which time I’ve tried all sorts of ‘solutions’ from business card scanners to online services such as Plaxo and LinkedIn – each one does provides ‘some’ relief for the burden of contact management input and update but overall none can be considered to be quite perfect.

Having said this, at Reboot8 I was pleasantly reminded by Marko Ahtisaari – Nokia’s Director of Design Strategy – that Palm had actually been one of the first companies to present a truly innovative solution to the stupidity of business cards by allowing people to ‘beam’ their details from device to device in pure electronic form saving precious time and hassle in the process. 

Like with the first Palm our Treo still retains the same easy ‘Beam Business Card’ functionality (Go to ‘Phone’ then ‘Record’ menu or simply ‘Option’ key + ‘M’ key) which works great when sharing data with fellow Treonauts or Palm users.  However, Palm has in my opinion truly missed an opportunity by not allowing Treonauts to similarly build a Bluetooth, SMS and eMail ‘Digital Business Card’ which could be sent with the same ease from within the main ‘Phone’ screen.


To set your own ‘Business Card’ you first simply need to create a New Contact with your professional and/or personal details and then from the contact menu choose ‘Select Business Card’ which will bring up a message to confirm that you want to “Make this name your business card?”. 

After this you will be able to beam your business card with one click from the Phone screen (image above left) but unfortunately it will take quite a few more clicks if you want to exchange your details via Bluetooth or eMail instead (strangely and disappointingly SMS Messaging is not supported…) as you’ll need to 1) Find your Contact; 2) Open your Contact and 3) select ‘Send Contact’.  The good thing though is that you can use the same process to Beam/Send any one of the hundreds or thousands of Contacts that you carry with you.

In a practical scenario I often use one or more of these options to send someone my personal contact information electronically when I don’t happen to have a business card with me.  Typically I’ll send them my Treo Business Card via email which automatically attaches all my contact details in a .vcf file and my digital signature also includes these for good measure. 

However, this is all very well for my ‘outbound’ business cards where I make it easy for others to receive my information electronically but it still often leaves me in a bind insofar as the many ‘inbound’ business cards that I get is concerned.  Sadly, few if any people/companies systematically provide their contact information in digital format to save us from the rather boring and time consuming task of manual data entry on our Treo, Outlook or other PIM application.

In this respect there is one tool called Anagram which has recently come to my rescue to avoid having to manually fill a new contact in Outlook (it also works with Palm Desktop, Salesforce.com, NetSuite and Jigsaw).  Anagram is among the simplest and most useful PIM add-in applications that I have come across and I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long to find it.

After installing Anagram you will be able to automatically add any contact details from an email, document or website directly into an Outlook Contact by simply highlighting the information that you want to add and pressing a two key command (I chose Ctrl+F1).  For example, below I’ve highlighted John Doe’s information from an email and within a second it has fully filled a new Contact for me without the need to re-type anything.  I absolutely love it and now use it almost daily.

As I mentioned before, although there are many different solutions available to share contact information electronically no single one does the job perfectly – quickly and easily.  Until someone figures this out properly – or everyone in the world owns a Treo  –  we will unfortunately have to continue to rely on a combination of all of these solutions.

Treonauts always prefer solutions that are quick and easy

Posted by Andrew on June 6, 2006 at 10:49 AM

Treo Software | Office

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by Jack Lambert | Jun 6, 2006 12:13:19 PM

Nice App, but it doesn't really address the issue of what to do with all those business cards. A decent scanner/application that efficiently put them into digital format and sent them to my computer/treo is what I would want.. the ones I've tried didn't work very well.

by thepfef | Jun 6, 2006 2:09:07 PM

Paper business cards will never go away. As a visual artist, beaming someone by Palm business card that doesn't have any graphics showing my work, and often has too much information (unless I create a stripped down version of myself in Contacts, duplicating my card) is useless. The information gets lost in their Palm until, several years later, they come across it and wonder "who the hell is that?"

by Andrew | Jun 6, 2006 2:21:39 PM

JE - I agree with you. Business cards will never go away and serve a useful purpose by being physical. However, there should be a simple digital service that could complement business cards.

Cheers, A.

by Dean | Jun 6, 2006 2:48:56 PM

What about using that new scanner software that's supposed to work on the 700p when you take a picture? Couldn't you take a picture/scan it and put it into your contacts/Outlook? Haven't tried it yet to see how well it really works, but maybe this is the solution.

by Pedro | Jun 6, 2006 4:08:53 PM

It's good to have Mr. Treonauts back. Thanks for the Anagram post--it seems to be a great tool, and I can't wait to try it out. I hope your travels are going well! I'm anxiously awaiting your thoughts on the 700p.

by Ryan | Jun 6, 2006 5:00:58 PM

Slap for Palm offers the same automagic contact detection/insertion. If only there were an easy way to do it straight from Chatter...

by jOSH | Jun 6, 2006 8:35:31 PM

Treo news must be scarce.............

by Spencer | Jun 6, 2006 9:36:25 PM

It used to be easier on the older Palms, that had dedicated Address Book/Contacts buttons, because simply holding down the button would start beaming your business card.

So, in Prefs I reconfigured my 650's Datebook button to be the Contacts button, and now when I hold it down, my contact information starts beaming.

One press and it beams. Last I checked, BTW, there was an app for Windows Mobile PDAs that would accept and send Palm contact info.

by Spencer | Jun 6, 2006 9:38:34 PM

Oh, and assigning Contacts to a hard button bypasses Keyguard, in that it will start to beam without having to click on the center key. However, if you want to do anything else after beaming, you have to click on the center button.

by Ronald LaPedis | Jun 7, 2006 12:21:37 AM

I use CardScan + the Palm conduit to move paper business cards to my GSM Treo. Works like a champ!

by GregTreo | Jun 7, 2006 1:29:25 AM

Treo SMS has Quick Text. Just create a Quick Text entry with your biz card info in it, and SMS-ing your biz info is a breeze...

by thepdaguy | Jun 7, 2006 6:10:49 AM

Great minds think alike! I decided after going to CeBIT and getting a bunch of cards to scan them. By placing the cards in the same spot on my scanner I could skip preview scans and having to reset the edges of the scanning area with my scanning software.

As I'm a Mac user, I just sent the images straight to iPhoto and then I sync them to my iPod. However, using the Missing Sync (Palm to Mac sync software) I can sync images from iPhoto to my Palm.

I sort of outlined this on my blog at


by Spencer | Jun 7, 2006 8:06:29 PM

Just looked at a bunch of camera phones, and lots of them have business card scanner mode, where you can fill the frame with the card, and it will grab the information off of it.

Shouldn't be that hard to do with a PDA phone like the Treos.

by Glen Peters | Jun 12, 2006 2:52:41 PM

I have been looking for an peripheral card scanner that would connect directly to the Treo. Don't care about OCR. Just get me a better resolution image of the card so that I can look at it and OCR it later on my PC. I develop software for the Treo for Transportation and Construction and just want to be able to scan business-card-sized certificates without having to pull out my laptop. Oh and I am also looking for rocket boots!

by Rick Loughery | Jun 13, 2006 2:18:30 PM

Hi - I work with a company called scanR, www.scanr.com - we will be rolling out a business card solution that converts an image of a business card to a vCard. You can sign up for the beta here - http://www.scanr.com/bc.aspx

by Tony Cooper | Jun 14, 2006 7:27:15 AM

I'm downloading the trial to give it a try, it would certainly save some time if it works cleanly.

by celina | Jun 8, 2007 4:08:32 PM

Hi -- to Ronald LaPedis (or anyone else who knows the answer) could you elaborate on how this would work:

"I use CardScan + the Palm conduit to move paper business cards to my GSM Treo"

Specifically I'd want to scan the cards then as painlessly as possible transfer the info to the contacts in my Agendus for Windows/Palm (works both on my Dell laptop and my treo 650). Would your CardScan + Palm conduit make it possible to do this?

And what exactly is a "Palm conduit" and how does one purchase one???

Thanks from a relative newbie to this world!!

by celina | Jun 8, 2007 4:08:34 PM

Hi -- to Ronald LaPedis (or anyone else who knows the answer) could you elaborate on how this would work:

"I use CardScan + the Palm conduit to move paper business cards to my GSM Treo"

Specifically I'd want to scan the cards then as painlessly as possible transfer the info to the contacts in my Agendus for Windows/Palm (works both on my Dell laptop and my treo 650). Would your CardScan + Palm conduit make it possible to do this?

And what exactly is a "Palm conduit" and how does one purchase one???

Thanks from a relative newbie to this world!!

by Chet | Jul 25, 2008 7:18:41 PM

Just use SyncUp. It's free. Add a SyncUp ID to your business card. People can request your contact information using your SyncUp ID. You can approve or decline each request for your info. Then, you can just download a vCard or use their Outlook plug-in. People can offer you their information when they're requesting yours. It's also easy to say your SyncUp ID (think--spelling out your information over the phone), or write it down on a piece of paper.

The reason business cards won't go away is the same reason other forms like handwriting or speaking won't go away... we typically meet in person. Nobody wants to key in that information during a conversation, so a business card is a very effective and cheap way to convey information.

With SyncUp, you can include your SyncUp ID in all the ways you use to exchange contact information, including your business card. So it has a much wider range of use than a scanner.

That doesn't solve the problem if people don't have SyncUp IDs. Although, you can send them an e-mail invitation and approve them to receive your info. So at least one of you will save on the data entry in that case. I do, and I find that I'm much more likely to enter the data when it just involves requesting a SyncUp ID than when I have to type in all the info.

by joe dean | Dec 28, 2009 12:00:17 PM

i need a device to download bussiness cards into a digital format

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