In this web-enabled world of ours, you have to wonder why business cards are still so popular. Shouldn't there be a better way? A number of startups have attempted to address this problem with ingenious solutions that range from iPhone apps to custom URLs. Others are calling for the use of QR Codes for mobile data exchange. Unfortunately, no one service has hit the sweet spot just yet, but newcomer "E" thinks they have it figured out. Will "E" succeed where the others have failed? Or is this one industry that refuses to become digitized?
You have to appreciate E's creative URL - it's memorable, but also makes you curious. E? What's E?, you wonder. When I first encountered the URL, it was in a tweet which read "I'm now using E to add friends to my Twitter account. More info on http://hellomynameise.com." Did I click though? You bet.
"E," as it turns out, is a new spin on digital contact exchange. Instead of using paper business cards, you use your phone to exchange data. At first, you may think that sounds very much like mobile contact service Dropcard, but it's not. The only similarity between E and Dropcard is that they both allow you to customize your profile online and share it with others, but the similarities end there.
To use Dropcard, you either text or use a mobile app which emails your contact info to the person you just met. With E, you go to a mobile web URL that lets you exchange a passcode with your new contact. The passcode is simply a five-digit code which is entered into the mobile web app itself. They show your theirs, you show them yours...that sort of thing. Once connected, you don't receive an email message with their contact info like with Dropcard. E goes a step further and actually adds that contact to all the services you've already integrated with E.
At the moment, E allows you to integrate Twitter, PICNIC (a network for the PICNIC conference), and Soocial. However, Delicious, European social portal Netlog, and LastFM are listed as coming soon. After you integrate these services with E, when you add a contact they're immediately added to all those other web services, too. And thanks to Soocial, an address book solution, E contact info can also synchronize with your email address book in Gmail, Highrise, your OSX address book, or the address book on your phone itself.
Barriers To Adoption
E faces one of the typical problems that many web 2.0 startups do - they don't work for you until a lot of people are using it. Just because you have a profile on E, that doesn't mean that those you meet do. And unlike a service like Dropcard, there isn't a way to use E without the other person's involvement.
In addition to the service itself, the developers of E came up with a crazy but interesting idea for a hardware device called the "Connector." With this device, you can exchange contact info with others just by touching the two connectors together. While gadget junkies and shiny object collectors may find this device appealing, it could easily remain a niche gadget that ends up sitting on the shelf next to your Chumby and Nazbaztag. To cross the adoption barrier, those at E would be smart to sponsor events where everyone gets a Connector at registration. After a few high-profile events, they would have industry movers and shakers on board, and that's always a good place to start. Sponsoring events may be just what the company is planning, though, since their site mentions that the "Connector will be released at large events in the near future."
Will It Work?
At present, the E service is very basic. Twitter integration is the only service of note that works yet. (Soocial looks great, but is in private beta). The profiles themselves are also not as flexible as those with Dropcard are. You can easily add and remove services with Dropcard, but with E, I wasn't even able to add a second company that represents my second job. The services section of the web site is confusing - it doesn't allow you to do anything more than customize which services are connected. The actual profile information is entered under "Settings," so you can't specify that only personal contacts get your home address, for example. It appears to be all-or-nothing.
E still has far to go to become a truly successful digital contact exchange service, but at least they're trying something different. Because they operate via mobile URL, not an app specific to any one device, they're better positioned for more universal adoption that a service that designates itself as iPhone-only, for example.
The service is in private beta testing now, but you have the opportunity to make an impassioned plea as to why they should invite you on the signup page here. (If you get in, feel free to add me: 17975.)
Check out the video below to see E in action:
Hello, my name is E from Renato Valdés Olmos on Vimeo.