How to Banish Business Cards: A Ranked List of Digital Options
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flatbed scanner—about a dozen at a time (which is how many cards fit into an area the size of an 8.5×11-inch sheet of paper). I’d scan them at medium resolution, then upload the finished JPEG file to Evernote.
The method worked well, within certain limitations. As long as I knew what bit of text I was looking for, such as a name, I could always use Evernote’s search box to get back to the image with the relevant card, where I’d find the associated phone number or e-mail address.
But while the scanning part of this procedure was 12 times faster than using the card-scanning machine, I was still pretty lazy, and I wanted to see if I could speed it up even more. So my next experiment was to lay out a whole bunch of cards across my desk, about 30 at a time. I used my digital camera to take photographs at the highest resolution possible, then uploaded the photos to Evernote. Same result—nicely indexed images.
I should note that there are at least two companies, Cambridge, MA-based OfficeDrop (formerly known as Pixily) and Durham, NC-based Shoeboxed, that will handle all this scanning stuff for you. You just mail them an envelope full of business cards or other papers, and they’ll scan it and dump it into your Evernote account, or anywhere else you like. But these services can be a bit pricey—Shoeboxed starts at $9.95 per month for up to 50 business cards, and OfficeDrop starts at $4.95 per month.
And whether you’re doing the scanning yourself or outsourcing it, the real downfall of this method is that you end up with images, not nicely parsed data that you can import into your digital address book or contact list. That’s okay if you just want to look up information, but if you want to do anything with it, such as cutting and pasting, you’re out of luck.
The second best option: Mobile business card scanning apps. Apparently, it’s pretty easy these days to build a mobile app that will use a smartphone’s internal camera to snap a picture of a business card, then do some OCR on it and output a vCard file or the equivalent—-because there are at least 30 such apps for the Apple iPhone and more than a handful for Android phones.
I’ve been testing two of these programs, ScanBizCards and ScanR. I like both of these apps, which together illustrate the range of capabilities available in mobile card-scanning software. I’ll talk first about ScanR, which is by far the simpler of the two. It’s a very simple app where you 1) take a picture of a business card, 2) enter an e-mail address, 3) there is no third step—that’s it. The app processes the card, turns it into a vCard file, and e-mails it within a few minutes to the address you provided. From there, you can download the file and import it into the contact-list software or CRM system of your choice. (I use Apple’s basic Address Book app on my Mac, which synchs with the same app on my iPhone and iPad.) In my tests, ScanR did its job perfectly—I never had to make a correction.
With ScanBizCards, you start out the same way, but you have about two dozen cool added features to play with. More than a simple card scanner, this app is really a mobile contact manager. Once you’ve snapped a picture and the app finishes doing OCR on the card image, it lets you immediately correct any misrecognized text. (Note: most of the business card scanning apps for the iPhone require an iPhone 3GS or an iPhone 4. The lenses on earlier iPhones couldn’t take clear close-up pictures.) You can add notes and custom fields to each record, and then you can … Next Page »
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