Personal Software Test: Tackling the Business Card Problem

Using Presto! BizCard from NewSoft to battle a personal document management problem in miniature.

I had business cards stacked on my desks in the office and at home, squirreled in drawers, tucked in the pockets of sport coats and even piled on my dresser, dumped from shirt pockets.

Sound familiar? If you're like me, you have a personal document management problem in miniature, and it never ends. Each meeting, road trip and tradeshow brings a fresh batch of these tiny documents. There are at least a few products aimed at busting the business card problem, with leading candidates including Corex's CardScan and the IRIS Business Card Reader II. These products, which start at $149, include small, USB-connected business card scanners as well as integrated OCR and contact manager software.

I tested CardScan for Imaging Magazine some five years ago, and it did a great job. The software automatically rotates the card image to the right orientation and extracts the name, company, title, address, phone, fax, mobile, e-mail and Web addresses into the correct fields. You'll need to edit the data here and there, but the contact manager zooms in on the appropriate card image zone so you can review and correct the data.

Alas, that CardScan test model had to be returned, and my business card management problem quickly returned. All these years later, I recently found myself searching through stacks of cards for an old contact and I was tempted to crack out the bucks for a CardScan setup. It seemed a waste, though, given that I already own two scanners (an all-in-one flatbed and a workgroup sheet-fed model).

Isn't there software that will work with ordinary scanners? A quick search of the Web turned up Presto! BizCard from NewSoft. Unlike Corex and IRIS, NewSoft offers a software-only solution for $69.95 (as well as a "Presto! BizCard Reader" software and card scanner bundle for $99.95).

I downloaded the free demo software and was up and running in no time, though not without a hitch. My first attempts to scan met with lousy results. Nary a field of data appeared without an error, and many were pure gibberish. I decided I'd better read the manual (one of those basic first steps we all skip). I learned that Presto's OCR engine prefers 400-dpi grayscale images, but I was using the TWAIN interface and attempting to scan eight cards at once from my flatbed at the default setting of 200-dpi color.

A switch to the software's card-at-a-time Quick scan mode (at the right default settings) produced great results, requiring only a few edits here and there. But I wasn't about to scan scores of cards one at a time! I went back to scanning multiple cards from my flatbed at 400 dpi grayscale. The results were much better, though I did have to be sure that each card was straight and well spaced from the others on the flatbed (capturing eight cards with each letter-sized scan).

If you have hundreds of cards lying around, it really helps to have a scanner with an auto document feeder that can handle business cards. I switched to my sheet-fed scanner and rifled through a stack of 150 business cards in no time. I then used the "Import Card Images" mode to recognize the results (though I also learned I had to use individual JPG files for each card rather than a single multipage tiff). The results were pretty good; at least half the cards captured perfectly, without correction (though I seem to remember better accuracy from the Corex CardScan OCR engine). I soon mastered the edit mode navigation and image zoning tools and was able to correct and verify the contact information using the images as a reference.

For $70, this is one office tool that will come in handy, particularly if you're in journalism, sales or another field in which you're only as good as your contacts. Once you're done with the scanning and editing, you can synchronize the contacts with Outlook, Notes and a number of personal information managers.

If I'm true to my "neat office" New Year's resolution, I'll be scanning cards after each business trip and tradeshow. But it's nice to know I can also do an occasional back-file purge, scanning eight cards at a time on a flatbed or many more all at once through my sheet-fed scanner.