I go to a lot of conferences and events. Even before I started attending DrupalCons and camps 8 years ago, I filled my year with SXSW, An Event Apart, and many other web and music conferences. As so much of our lives move online, these in-person get-togethers are really important. They're a really great way to see old friends and meet new people. They're also the source of most of the business cards in my life.

I never remember to bring my cards with me though. It's usually as I'm getting into the car to head to the airport at 5am that I realize, "Oh {expletive}, I forgot my business cards!" I run back into the house and dig through my desk drawer trying to find the latest ones with the current address, the right phone number, and the new logo and toss a handful in my bag as I drive off to the airport.

A processing problem

But business cards are broken. They haven't changed much since they gained popularity as "visiting cards" in the 18th century. You can't beat them for simplicity and ubiquity, but they're also wasteful. Simply put, conventional business cards are not the right tool for the job anymore.

When I go to a conference or event, I usually end up with a handful of business cards from the various people I've met. I stuff them into my pocket and there they sit. I usually "process" them as I'm taking off my pants at the end of the day, jet lagged, and maybe a little drunk. They end up in a pile on the hotel nightstand with the cards from the previous day. As I'm packing for the trip home, I toss them into my suitcase and they get visited again when I'm unpacking my suitcase. It has now been 4 to 5 days or more since I've gotten most of these cards. I flip through the pile trying to figure out who these people are and who I might want to follow up with. If I'm feeling efficient I throw most of them in the trash. Otherwise, the pile stays on my bureau at home making me feel guilty and disorganized until that time about once every six months where I declare bureau bankruptcy and I trash everything on it. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I don't think anyone wants their business card to be processed while I'm drunk and half naked at midnight in my hotel room. I don't think they want their card to be processed 5 days later along with my dirty laundry either.

More problems

There are several other problems with business cards as well. First off, there's the getting-in-the-car-at-5am problem. We forget to bring them with us. Anyone who's met me can tell you, I'm a pretty casual guy. I like to connect with people, but I'm not much of a "networker". I'm not the kind of guy who shows up a dinner party with a pocket full of business cards. Yet, there have been many times that I was at some casual event like that and I found myself really wanting to leave my information with someone I met.

There are also different contexts in which we live our lives. I feel weird giving my "Lullabot CEO" card to a musician who might want to join my band or a parent from my son's school. Many of us have different types of work we do, a sideline business we're getting started, or want to have a card for more casual social situations. Are we going to get 5 different cards designed and printed for our different life contexts and carry them around with us? Rest assured that if you print all of these cards, you'll still forget the ones you want at home.

There's also the data problem. Our lives have changed a lot since the 18th century. We've got multiple telephone numbers, social network links, email addresses, URLs, and all sorts of data to share about ourselves. It's simply too much data for a well-designed paper business card. It's not the right delivery mechanism for modern life.

The solution

So about a year ago, I had an idea for a simple app to solve this problem. Brock Boland and I have been chipping away at it for about a year as a Lullabot Labs project. We think we've put together something really useful. It's called Shoot. It's an iOS app which allows users to create multiple cards containing whatever information they would like to add: name, company, title, profile image, email addresses, URLs, social networks, mailing addresses, etc. I can be "Jeff" on my personal card and "Jeffrey" on my professional card. I can choose different profile images and share different information with different people.

Each card is sent as a beautiful HTML formatted email tested and compatible with 98% of modern email systems. The recipient gets your photo along with your your information so they might recognize you from meeting. The email can contain a map and location information reminding the recipient of where you met. The email also contains a vCard .vcf file so that they can click to add you to their address book.

More importantly, your recipients get your card in their email inbox for processing when they're actually processing incoming information. They sit down the next morning to catch up with their email, and there you are. They're actually in position to take an action based on your connection. They can reply to your message, add you to their address book, or just file your information for later. Even if they do nothing but archive your card message, it will still be there months or years later when they search through their mail for your name, company, or even the location where you met.

There have been several popular apps over the years which have attempted to tackle this problem. But most of them were either overly complicated or required both the sender and recipient to have the app. And none of them solved the processing problem. The contact information from your app would immediately end up in their app where it would be forgotten – a virtual bureau piled with ignored business cards.

Shoot is a simple idea. But that's what's so great about it. It's better than business cards. It's Shoot!

It's available for free right now in the Apple App Store.

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Jeff Robbins

Jeff is a co-founder of Lullabot and the company's former CEO.

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