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February 15, 2011

Filed under: culture»corporate


About five years ago, I designed my own business cards. On the front, they had my contact info and a stamp of my name in Mandarin Chinese that I'd gotten in Xi'An. On the back, there was a QR code containing a vCard of everything on the front, which was supposed to show people that I was way ahead of my time (this was, in fact, so far ahead of its time that nobody was ever able to scan one of the stupid things until last year).

Anyway, of the 500 or so cards I had printed, I probably still have 450 of them sitting on a shelf at home. Partly this is because I wasn't nearly as big on actual networking as I was on having a cool business card, but it's also a function of where the world is going: nobody keeps a rolodex full of cards anymore, and our address "books" live behind a touchscreen or on an Exchange server. And while I may have been a bit hasty in adopting them, these days QR codes and digital tags are everywhere. Machine-readable data has invaded the everyday world.

So this year, I'm taking an admittedly small risk and calling it: now is the time to ditch physical business cards. It'll save paper and money, reduce clutter and littering at conferences, and best of all, it'll genuinely put you on the cutting edge of digital networking.

Now you may be saying to yourself, sure, Thomas can do this: he's a bona fide misanthrope, but how can regular people get away with it? Good question. Here's a few easy strategies for going cardless:

  • Install a QR code generator on your smartphone: If you're an Android user, you probably have one already--it comes with Google's stellar Barcode Reader application. Pick a contact, choose "Share" from the menu, and presto: a code pops up that someone can scan right off the screen. I'm sure other platforms have something similar. You'll need to create an address book entry for yourself--something old-school Palm users will remember from the days of IR contact beaming.
  • Upload a vCard: I tried this the other day, and it's surprisingly nifty. Give someone the URL to the card, and it'll download to their phone or computer and prompt to be added to their address book. Once you've got it working, you even could use a link shortener like to make a custom (trackable) URL, and just update the .vcf file when your details change. You'll need a server you can control, because it needs to send the content-type as "text/x-vcard" and the content-disposition as "attachment" for Android and Blackberry phones to understand it correctly (an .htaccess file even lets you set the card as the 'index' for a directory). iPhones are, perhaps unsurprisingly, slightly less cooperative.
  • Once again, own your name: I can't repeat this enough. Of course, it helps if your name is relatively uncommon, and even then you never know when an ad agency will try to steal your thunder. But owning a searchable, easy-to-remember domain is a great way to present yourself, not to mention a fine place to host a copy of your QR code and your vCard file.

In a few years, this'll all probably seem like old hat. That's why it's important to jump on the card-less trend now, so we can look down our noses at the luddites handing out paper slips (and manually copying them into their computers) while we still can.

I kid, of course. Seriously, though: set aside the snobbery, the savings in money and paper, the confetti of unwanted cards after a professional meetup, and the chance to demonstrate your new media credentials. Won't it feel good just to not have to carry around a stack of disposable business cards wherever you go? I feel lighter already.

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