We don’t need to remember phone numbers anymore. We don’t have rolodexes—we have digital contact lists and social media apps that catalog every vaguely significant person we’ve ever met. And yet, tucked in our wallets or forgotten on business trips, we still have business cards.
In an era where so many things are on our phones, the physical business card feels out of place. Not for want of trying: Numerous apps over the years have tried their hand at digitizing these pieces of cardstock. Cardflick and Cardcloud debuted their app-based business card replacements in 2011, when smartphone adoption started to pick up steam. About.me gave it a try in 2014, using its mobile app as a customizable business card alternative. But the Bump app may have been closest to achieving this lofty goal.
Bump was one of the earliest successes in the App Store, the eighth-most popular app downloaded between 2009 and 2011. It was a seemingly magical app that let you exchange contact information with another user when you “bumped” your phones together. The app used your phone’s sensors to detect the motion from the bump and then matched it with any other devices that felt that bump at the same time. As social media apps proliferated and friend requests replaced the need to bump, the app began to fall by the wayside. Google acquired Bump after its peak, in 2013, and shut it down not long after.
Despite a history littered with failed attempts, companies continue to try to solve the business card “problem.” The former co-founder of business card digitizing app CardMunch is the latest to do so with a new endeavor, HiHello. “Handing someone a piece of paper in 2018 to exchange contact information just seems archaic and mind-numbingly dumb to me,” HiHello founder Manu Kumar wrote in a blog post announcing the app. In more colorful terms, Kumar calls business cards “the cockroaches of information exchange.”
HiHello, available on iOS and Android, takes a different approach from business card replacement apps of the past. Those often required both new contacts to have the same app downloaded on their phone—a significant barrier to adoption. Instead, HiHello gives you a unique QR code you can share with new friends and colleagues. You bring up the code from the app on your phone and then they scan it with their phone’s camera. Most modern smartphones have QR readers built into either the OS (Google Lens on Android) or their camera software (iOS), making it easy to use. The QR code opens up a link to the HiHello website with the user’s information, which the recipient can then tap to download to their handset. (Alternatively, the info can be messaged or emailed.) HiHello is free, but in the future will charge for premium features targeted at business users, Kumar told Slate.
HiHello has a few benefits over the printed business card of yore. The app lets you create different cards you can share in different instances as appropriate. One for your day job, one for your side hustle, one with more personal information when you’ve found your new best friend or long-lost cousin. The cards are always there on your phone and never forgotten at your desk. And if your job or personal information changes, it’s quick and easy to update—no more wasted crate of unused business cards to recycle.
While social media has proven useful in digitally connecting with both friends and network contacts, Facebook and other social media sites haven’t solved the issue either. Just because you want to exchange business ideas or reach out about a job opportunity doesn’t mean you want to see your new contact’s political ramblings and vacation photos. There’s one possible social media exception: LinkedIn. The site hasn’t replaced the business card—and its attempts to do so, by acquiring Kumar’s old startup CardMunch in 2011, have been abandoned—but LinkedIn is the leading professional social network with more than a half-billion users. It’s also a common alternative to the traditional business card exchange: “I’ll add you on Linkedin!” However, like other social media apps, LinkedIn keeps a contact siloed within a particular experience, and it necessitates secondary follow-up to gain additional information such as a phone number or email address.
And despite LinkedIn’s growth, business cards are still around, and they are a pain. They’re a not-entirely-necessary business expense, and troublesome to manage if you don’t plan to stay at the same role for many years. For those who freelance, switch jobs frequently, or simply hate carrying a stack of paper cards in their wallet, HiHello could prove a fruitful alternative. It’s been a few years since the last aspiring business card-killer came around, and this app seems like a solid option. Previous apps largely failed because they required both parties to have the same app, or because connecting on social media was an easier alternative. With ubiquitous smartphone adoption, built-in QR code scanning technology, and the app’s option of multiple customizable cards, HiHello could to be a convenient option for new networking connections—as long as snapping a QR code really does prove easier than connecting on LinkedIn.