The Slow Death of the Traditional Business Card


Derek Peterson’s business card is, truly, always in his hand.

The technology chief at Boingo Wireless Inc. had a chip inserted, between his left thumb and index finger, that carries his contact information. New acquaintances can use their phones to download the details.

The rub: His attempts to transmit often draw looks of confusion, then disbelief, then gawking. He finds some phones need an app downloaded before his chip, which uses near-field communication technology, can be scanned. And some phones’ NFC readers aren’t mighty enough to detect the chip unless placed directly on top of his hand.

“I was some kind of cyborg,” he said of one recent interaction, which led to a crowd taking photos. “It’s kind of funny.”

Traditional business cards—dropping off for years—might finally be folding given the Covid-19 pandemic, as many professionals worked from home, switched jobs and attended conferences and meetings virtually. Even now, with in-person schmoozing on the rise, many networkers are in no mood to return to what they see as the germ-swapping, environmentally unfriendly and laborious tradition of exchanging physical cards, only to manually input the fine print into phones later.

Derek Peterson put his contact information on a chip and had it implanted into his hand. It can be read by people’s phones.



Photo:

Derek Peterson

Instead, they are turning to hybrid or fully virtual solutions: physical cards with QR codes, scannable digital cards or chips embedded in physical items that allow people to share contact details with a tap.

Mr. Peterson got his card from Dangerous Things, a human implant technology company whose chip can be inserted with a syringe—the company suggests body piercers and other pros for the task. Mr. Peterson asked a neighbor with a medical degree. If, say, a phone number changes, the chip can be updated online.

But the post-paper world is hardly friction-free.

Atlas Vernier rejected paper business cards in favor of wearing an NFC ring with a chip inside. Once scanned, the 21-year-old’s information pops up in the recipient’s phone.

Mx. Vernier, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, described often having to slightly move the ring around in search of the “sweet spot” of a phone’s NFC reader. “That’s the way technology works—it always works until someone’s looking.”

Atlas Vernier uses a chip in a ring instead of a business card.



Photo:

Atlas Vernier

When an attendee at a recent racial-equity conference asked

Robert F. Smith

for his contact information, the private-equity billionaire furnished a white plastic card with a gold QR code printed on it. The guest held her phone above the card to scan it. Nothing happened.

For the next minute or so, she positioned her phone at various distances from the card while Mr. Smith, the chief executive of Vista Equity Partners, tried different grips and angles. When that didn’t work, Mr. Smith pulled out a different card with a black QR code. Success.

Mr. Smith was unbowed. “I appreciate good sense tech solutions,” he said in a written statement later. “I don’t miss paper cards at all.”

Ayomide Joseph, a content marketer, tried to use a QR code to share his details with cybersecurity experts, but they refused. The FBI had issued a warning about cybercriminals who redirect codes to fraudulent websites. And privacy remains a concern for some.

Ayomide Joseph hands out plastic business cards with a QR code.



Photo:

Ayomide Joseph

Mr. Joseph said he also runs up against people, mostly older, who don’t have security worries but just don’t “vibe to it.” For them, Mr. Joseph has his contact info written on the back of the card. The ones he hands out are plastic, which he said he likes for the “element of surprise.”

Nicole Bishop, chief executive of a health-technology startup, put a QR code on her cellphone’s home screen. The code carries an online card made by HiHello Inc. that allows those who scan it to digitally send their contact information back to her device.

Ms. Bishop said she always has two phone chargers with her, since a dead battery can be a deal breaker.

HiHello tracks how many times its digital business cards are opened. CEO Manu Kumar said that was 700,000 times in June, almost three times the number in an average month in 2021.

Nicole Bishop has a QR code with her business details on her home screen.



Photo:

Nicole Bishop

VistaPrint,

a marketing services company owned by Cimpress PLC, added QR codes to business-card templates in November 2020. LinkedIn added a feature for users to create a QR code back in 2018.

Rob Krugman, Broadridge Financial Solution Inc.’s chief digital officer, recently offered his LinkedIn QR code to guests at a dinner gathering and highlights the QR code on PowerPoints when giving speeches.

“We don’t need to call them QR codes; it’s like a scary word,” he said. “If it’s connecting a physical experience to a digital experience, this should be—the word I would use—magic.”

Bad cell service or a weak Wi-Fi connection can sap the magic. “You try again and then eventually you give up if you can’t get it to work,” Mr. Krugman said. “That’s where I maybe say, ‘You know what, just give me your cellphone number.’ ”

Some people aren’t ready to abandon cardstock. Ross Fishman, CEO of Fishman Marketing Inc., finds paper cards particularly useful when meeting many attendees at conferences. He jots notes on the back of cards, on how he knows the contact and what was discussed.

His system, Mr. Fishman says, is easier than trying to remember someone’s name long enough to find it in his phone or from his list of 7,000 LinkedIn connections after an event. “They’re buried.”

His firm helps law offices redesign paper business cards and use them effectively. He said he won’t get rid of his paper cards, but even he is inching toward what he sees as the hybrid future. He said he might add a QR code to the card, just to make it quicker for people who like scanning them.

Write to Alex Harring at alex.harring@wsj.com and Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com

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