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Cardign Launches A New Way To Network With The iPhone Via Image Recognition

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Gillmor Gang Live 12.07.12 (TCTV)

Cardign (pronounced like the sweater) is a new app for iPhone launching today from a Toronto-based startup. The app has a neat little trick, since it uses facial recognition via pictures snapped with the iPhone’s camera to retrieve a user’s contact details. Cardign founder Jean-Luc David believes that it’s a far easier way for people to connect at in-person networking events and other social functions, since it eliminates some of the finicky elements of contact transfer apps like Bump, but it also isn’t without its own share of challenges.

For one thing, the app requires that users have downloaded it and shot three photos of themselves to be added to its database in order for it to be able to recognize them. That means that to be initially useful, it needs to get users on board – and fast. David acknowledged that this will be the startup’s priority in the short-term, and he has some plans for doing so. These include making sure to promote the app heavily at tech-focused networking events, and he says they have big plans for this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin.

The idea for the app actually formed because of SXSW two years ago, David told me.

“The whole idea started out at SXSW in 2011,” he said. “I made a whole bunch of really good contacts there, got business cards and wrote notes on them, but totally lost the contacts and discussions that I was having with people. So I thought it would great if there was a way for, as soon as you were meeting with people, to be able to contact them immediately.”

David decided to create this project while working at a small digital design firm, and that company decided to put up $25,000 in seed funding in order to get the ball rolling. David and two partners took things from there, building the Cardign app available now (which he says is essentially an MVP) in seven months from start to finish. Now that the product is out there, David says they’re going to continue adding features, and will begin to seek additional external funding to help them accomplish that goal.

The app isn’t just about image recognition even in its current, early form. It also hosts its own contacts list, which operates separately from your iPhone’s built-in address book, since David said that in beta testing users found keeping them separate was preferable, owing to the fact that they didn’t necessarily want all of their Cardign contacts in their primary address book. The benefit of the in-app address book is that it’s dynamically updated, so that if someone changes jobs or phone numbers on their social media profiles, that information is automatically available to Cardign and its users. Another feature tracks all meetings made through the app, so that people can see when and where others are connecting via the service. For now, David said they’re keeping all of those parts of the service out in the open, but he hinted that privacy controls might be in the works for future releases.

Another potential addition to the product is the ability to scrape and match publicly available photos, so that taking a picture of someone doesn’t require them to already be in the system to populate a contact. David stresses that this feature will only ever use information already made freely available by users via tools like Google search, to allay any potential privacy worries.

Cardign is an impressive, interesting tech demo in its current form, but with a growing user pool it could become an extremely useful networking service. David is fairly confident that will happen, based on what he calls a “Pokémon effect” witnessed at events where once a user pulls out the app, everyone who sees it in action gets into “collect them all” mentality on their own devices. I’ve seen more than a few apps that depend on getting users onboard and participating in a new community sunk by general apathy, however, long before they reach critical mass, so hopefully Cardign can get over that initial hump.