Chatty Brain’s Weekly App review is intended to highlight and review apps that, in some way, make life in Hong Kong just that little bit easier, so when I recently discovered the CardMunch app, my excitement resembled that of a three year old on a sugar high. As far as I am concerned, I found the Holy Grail of apps that simplified at least one area of my life in Hong Kong. This brilliant, free, little tool finally put an end to my card hoarding habit and let me say good riddance to the hundreds of cards I have amassed since moving to here.
Online there are plenty of debates about the life expectancy and health of the classic business card in the West, but anyone living in Asia can attest to the fact they are still going strong over here, with many people having at least two.
In Hong Kong, if you show up to a meeting, cocktail party or networking event sans card, you might as well come in your underpants. No matter what excuse you offer, you will remain naked in everyone’s eyes. Within a couple of weeks of arriving here I was quickly acquainted with the “Hong Kong handshake,” which involves no physical contact (heaven forbid), but rather four hands and two pieces of paper. I quickly had some cards printed.
A year and a half later and our home décor is embellished with various sized card-pyramids scattered throughout the rooms. Something had to be done about this asap as I had quickly amassed over 500 cards, on top of the ones the secret card hoarder in me collected over the years.
Searching for a solution, the obvious starting point was with card scanners, but I never had much luck with them in the past. I have tried various models but none of them could be relied upon to correctly copy all the information on the card. In the end I spent more time correcting the scanned information than it would have taken me to input it myself.
Once again my phone had the answer and the saying “There is an app for everything” proved to be true.
CardMunch looked different from the get-go. It had excellent reviews (bar iPhone 5 display related teething problems), was free, and most of all, is produced by a trusted brand: in this case the Linked In Corporation. It’s credentials also boasted being an iTunes Staff Favourite and listed in Mashable’s Top 20 Must Have Apps (for the iPhone 4s). I had to give it a spin.
So how does it deliver? Firstly, CardMunch does exactly what it says on the tin: it “Converts business cards to address book contacts and then adds them as connections to your LinkedIn account”. All you have to do is take a picture of the card. If you can read all the information in the picture then upload it, if not, retake it until is does. CardMunch then transcribes the information from the card into a record based format connected to LinkedIn.
Transcribed is the key word here, and the reason why CardMunch works in ways where others fail to be as useful. Every card is “transcribed” by a human to guarantee accuracy, and before you ask: no, you will not find warehouses filled with transcribers in some remote corner of the world. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, which enlists a global workforce, does the job.
Once you have uploaded your image it is usually transcribed within an hour. Many of my cards have been returned within minutes though the longest I waited for one was about 6 hours. Other CardMunch functionalities allow you to tap on the envelope to create an email message, forward the contact, save it to your iPhone’s address book, delete the entry or resubmit it for transcribing.
How much information you will see, on top of what is on the business card, depends on how much information the person has added to their LinkedIn account. If they do not have one you will still have what was on the card.
Yes: it is that simple, and Yes: it works. I have now tried cards of all colours, font size and with various light situations (it supports flash) and they have all been transcribed.
There are a few limitations of course. You must have a LinkedIn account, the app works only on Apple devices (though they promise Blackberry and Android support is “coming soon”) and currently you cannot transfer cards in bulk. Having tried many other scanning devices however, this is truly the best one I have come upon so far.
The environmentalist in me hopes the day will come when we all walk around with just one card, our own, and others snap a picture of it. I know that day is still far away, at least it is here in Hong Kong. Until then, CardMunch is a great way of bulldozing through the growing card pyramids that were slowly taking over our home.