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LinkedIn killing CardMunch biz-card scanning app

Small cellulose rectangles 1, Internet 0

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Way back in the year 2000, Palm Inc tried to kill off the business card with a feature called “beam” that allowed users of its handheld computers to distribute their contact details by infrared, so that they'd be sucked up into one's contacts file.

The feature never quite took off, despite Palm's infamous ad depicting it as good way to arrange a hookup. The exchange of small cellulose rectangles bearing basic identity and contact data – aka business cards – remain ubiquitous today. And also remains anachronistic at a time when nearly everyone carries a smartphone and would dearly love the chance to digitise data on business cards.

In February 2011 LinkedIn tried to do something about that anachronism by acquiring a company called CardMunch, whose app used an Iphone's camera to scan and digitise business cards. CardMunch distinguished itself by using real people to assist with the scanning process instead of relying solely on optical character recognition, so that once it added your newly-scanned contact to your phone the data about them would be clean.

Once LinkedIn got its hands on CardMunch it added another feature: freshly scanned contacts could be added as a LinkedIn connection.

For a time all was well. CardMunch worked as advertised. Users wondered when an Android version would emerge, which seemed like a very sensible idea. LinkedIn was silent on that idea and now we can make an educated guess about the reasons because overnight the company emailed CardMunch users to say it's killing off the app.

The company isn't saying why, other than expressing a desire to “continue to bring you the best tools to manage your professional life.”

The good news for CardMunch's users is that LinkedIn has teed up a replacement service in the form of two years' free business-card scanning from Evernote. That service already hooks into LinkedIn, so there's not likely to be a significant degradation in service.

LinkedIn's email to CardMunch users is brief and full of corporate double-speak, so we're left to speculate about its reasons for the closure. The most obvious reason is that the app simply wasn't driving enough traffic to its services to justify either an Android port or its continuation. With Evernote offering a similar service, LinkedIn has decided it can continue to offer a scanning service without having to expend its own time and/or energy. And it even gets an Android option it couldn't be bothered to build.

Dyed-in-the-wool users, and the workers doing the card reading, are the losers. LinkedIn breaks even and Evernote gets a chance to bolster its customer numbers.

And business cards will continue to pile up, unloved, unread and defiantly analog. ®

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