This story appeared first in the Sunday edition of the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper.
When you make a contact and get that person’s business card, what do you do with it? File it alphabetically in a business card directory, type the information into your computer or just toss it into a drawer?
SLM Technology, a new Madison company, has developed a digital system for recording names and phone numbers quickly and easily, putting them right onto your smartphone or other mobile device.
The application gives users a personalized, two-dimensional bar code — called a QR, or quick response, code — that contains all of their information, including name, company, website and social media connections.
The QR code is a square with a black and white design. The concept has been used in Japan and Europe for years but is only recently gaining steam in the U.S.
With SLM’s app, when two people who have the technology meet, all they have to do is scan each other’s QR code from one smartphone to another and the names, numbers and addresses are captured and stored digitally, accessible on their phones, tablets or computers.
If a user changes jobs or adds a website or blog, for example, as the personal information is updated, the revisions are sent automatically to their contacts, as well.
“This is a dynamic electronic card. It’s always current,” said Liz Eversoll, SLM co-founder and chief executive officer.
Eversoll said digital business cards, which cost less than $1 a month, can cut a company’s expenses and can be used as a sales tool and social connection. A company can, for instance, contact all of its sales representatives through their bar codes and send them company news, sales quotes or other information.
UW-Madison communications professor Dietram Scheufele said QR codes are “very successful tools.” Placed on a print advertisement or a placard, say, at a transit station, people can use their mobile devices to scan the code and access a website for more information or a discount on a purchase.
A Chicago restaurant, for example, posted a QR code on the side of a building that linked to an offer for discounted shrimp taco dinner, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“It’s a really good way of connecting new ways of information-seeking with traditional ways,” Scheufele said.
The UW-Madison has started experimenting with QR codes:
• At the Chazen Museum of Art, an exhibit of Russian icons last spring included QR codes on the labels of many objects, leading to pages on the art history department’s website with research by students on the works of art.
• The athletic department posted a QR code online, in addition to a link, for the Badgers’ spring football game, packed with information about the team.
• Wisconsin Sea Grant printed QR codes on postcards distributed to outdoor outfitter stores.
“The thinking is that the postcard may be expendable but a QR code in the phone permanently allows, for example, a kayaker to get real-time wave conditions while driving to a put-in spot or a swimmer can check on rip currents before heading to the beach,” Moira Harrington, communications manager for the Wisconsin Aquatic Sciences Center, said in an email.
Scheufele said he can imagine the UW eventually using QR codes to help students register for classes, simultaneously providing them with information about the classes and even scheduling them automatically on their mobile calendars.
Other companies are developing their own two-dimensional bar codes, such as the Microsoft Tag. It is fast and easy to brand, Eversoll said.
For an advertiser, meanwhile, 2D bar codes can provide data about consumers that’s never been available before, such as where they saw the ad and accessed the code, he said.
“So the applications are absolutely tremendous and exciting,” Scheufele said.
At the same time, though, that type of information can raise privacy questions.
“Folks need to be aware how much information they’re transmitting when they use this,” Scheufele said.