The business card needs to die, and everyone knows it. They’re clumsy, easy to lose, and virtually useless as one of the last bits of information that we pass non-digitally (they kill trees, too). The cell phone market could easily put business cards out of their misery, but instead of conforming to a single standard for contact exchange, handset manufacturers offer proprietary solutions or none at all.
FriendBook, an iPhone application from Tapulous, looked like it might hold the answer. The app uses a physical “handshake” to swap information – users simply put their iPhones next to each other and shake them. Granted, this would only work on iPhones, but it could have paved the way for similar apps on other phones. But as of yesterday the fate of FriendBook is now in jeopardy due to the departure of its lead developer (and Tapulous cofounder) Mike Lee. So is all hope lost?
Gabe Zichermann, CEO of rmbrME (“remember me”), thinks that his startup holds the answer. The service uses standard SMS or a web app to initiate the transfer of contact information, so it should work on nearly any phone. rmbrME initially launched last spring under a paid model (you’d have to pay around 50 cents every time you wanted to add a new contact). But because of an immediate poor response to the model, rmbrME is now free, though it plans to offer a premium service in the future.
To begin using the rmbrME, you first set up a profile including your standard contact information as well as links to your presence across various social networks. After meeting a potential new contact, you send a text message containing either the contact’s email address or phone number to a designated rmbrME shortcode. rmbrME then sends your new contact a SMS or email message with a link to your details, and asks them to create their own profile so that you can receive theirs.
Zichermann says it only takes about 3 seconds to initiate the process – just send your contact’s email to rmbrME, and you can complete the rest later. That may be the case, but each user still needs to logon to the site, download the contact information from there, and create an account if they want to send their own data back. People may be willing to jump through a few hoops for essential contacts, but the process is still too involved, especially when meeting a large number of people at once. rmbrME is a step up from the antiquated business card, but at this point it isn’t the ultimate solution.
So what is the answer? Handset manufacturers need to agree on a format for proximity-based exchange over the air between devices – whip out the phones, detect nearby acquaintances, and hit accept. Palm was doing this a decade ago (albeit with a proprietary format), yet we’re still fumbling with Email exchanges and workaround solutions.