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11/15/2011
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CardMunch iPhone App Reads Business Cards Into LinkedIn

The businessy social network takes business cards to the next level. Instead of sitting in a drawer, you can easily tie those cards to your contacts and the context in which you met them.

There's a large graveyard of software out there for scanning business cards into a machine-readable form, but it's still a compelling application concept. If anyone could make the most of it, it ought to be the business-oriented social network LinkedIn, right? LinkedIn has taken over control of the CardMunch iPhone App and re-released it (click here for its entry in the App Store).

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You take a picture of the card with your iPhone camera.
The app displays a box in which you photograph the business card and then submit it to LinkedIn. As described by LinkedIn in their blog, the service interprets the details on the card and connects them to a LinkedIn profile, if there is one. If there isn't, you still get the details and you get to invite the contact to connect on LinkedIn.

I tested it with my own business card, which was a challenging problem. I am in LinkedIn, but with different contact information than is on my card. Even my title and company were subtly different. LinkedIn treated the contact as a new one and offered me the chance to connect.

The submission process for me took about 45 minutes. At first I was bothered by how long it took, but in the normal use of such an application this is perfectly reasonable, and in fact it's pretty good. It's not like you need immediate access to someone's LinkedIn account after you scan their business card. The scans will typically happen in batch after a meeting or business trip.

Eventually, LinkedIn gets back to you with contact information.
Eventually, LinkedIn gets back to you with contact information.
Business cards are a rectangular peg in the round hole of our technological world. How many of us actually enter those cards into whatever we use for contact management? The easier is to make that analog information digital (and the sooner we can toss that card), the better.

LinkedIn is a good, but incomplete solution to this. It would be nice, for example, to have a vcard (.vcf) file which I could easily import into Outlook or some other system. It's an extra step, but LinkedIn does allow you to export your contacts, so there's a way to do this albeit a somewhat convoluted one. It would also be nice to have an Android version, but there's no word on that for now.

If you're on LinkedIn and you have an iPhone you probably want this app. If you aren't on LinkedIn, this app just might make it worthwhile.

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