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KELLNER: A smart(phone) solution to organizing business cards

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A reader (and friend) in Vienna asked if I had any favorites among business-card-reading software for a smartphone.

Frankly, I hadn't thought of the idea before, but it makes sense: Most of today's smartphones (including the Apple iPhone 4S that I'm privileged to use right now) have very good cameras capable of taking high-resolution pictures. In turn, the pictures can be scanned to decipher text and fill in a computerized "address card," or record, for your contact.

It sure beats trying to enter all that data on a tiny smartphone keypad, real or virtual.

Using a camera-equipped smartphone as a scanner isn't totally new; the folks at Evernote and Instapaper, to name two mobile applications providers, have been doing this for a while. And scanning business-card information into a PC or Mac system has been available for quite some time.

The wrinkle now, of course, is that social media comes into play. We're all connected to one another, or so it seems, via Facebook and, often in the business world, via LinkedIn. Building up our virtual networks is, apparently, as important as building up our physical ones, if not more so.

That's where an application such as CardMunch by LinkedIn comes in. It's free and available for the iPhone, though the makers say it also is under development for Android phones.

The trick here is that CardMunch will scan your card photos, input the data and offer a LinkedIn "connect" invitation if the person is on the LinkedIn network. You can build your roster of real - and virtual - contacts quickly and easily.

The downside? It seems to be a bit slow when the image and transcript are being verified at a distance. Chunks of time seemed to pass while I awaited the processing of cards I had photographed.

The upside? Almost every card was transcribed perfectly; one or two needed minor, easy-to-make corrections. The program also suggested corporate names when the scanned data was a bit garbled. Overall, it's not a bad deal for the price, which, as mentioned, is free.

There are any number of similar programs in the Apple iTunes App Store that have a price tag on them; I selected the full version ($6.99) of ScanBizCards.app, which also is available in a free "lite" version. The paid version offers more features, as might be expected.

The program does what it advertises: It will scan your business cards, transcribe them and export the results to your smartphone's address book. From there they can go to your desktop and programs such as Microsoft Outlook, if desired. There's also an option to issue LinkedIn network invitations and send a virtual business card, or vCard, to the person whose card you just scanned in. An optional, $9.99-per-year service will back up your database of business cards online. You also can copy and paste email "signatures" into your ScanBizCards listings.

Performance, in terms of speed, was much faster than CardMunch, though accuracy wasn't always as good. The differences between the two programs were relatively few, but noticeable. I have the feeling this may be as much because of enthusiastic graphic design as anything: Simple, straightforward styles seem to work best with both programs.

For the moment, I'd go with CardMunch as my program of choice, in part because one of my resolutions this year is to become more active on LinkedIn, but ScanBizCards has a lot of nice features and a fair amount of potential.

Who should be worried about this? Well, I'm guessing the folks who make and sell traditional scanners for business cards and the like, although devices such as the ones sold by the Neat Co. can do far more than just business-card scanning, including scanning receipts and helping prepare expense reports. Then again, services for that function are also available via smartphone. Welcome to a brave, new and perhaps better organized world.

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