New York-based startup Vizibility is launching a limited beta of its NFC-enabled business cards just in time for SXSW this year. It’s offering the cards for 1,000 conference attendees who sign up via its website, in what founder and CEO James Alexander told us is a trial designed to help the company evaluate the technology, including “how to implement it and how it’s going to be used.”
Despite the pilot project, which will provide SXSW attendees with free plastic credit card-sized business cards embedded with NFC chips, Alexander says that his company doesn’t necessarily “know that NFC is a good way to go yet” in terms of mobile sharing; rather than pitting mobile connectivity technologies against each other, as a lot of the discussion around QR codes and NFC tech seems to have done, Alexander says Vizibility is weighting all avenues equally.
“The technical community, not to make a gross generalization, some segments in the technology company are pronouncing QR codes a dead technology,” Alexander said. “But we’re only now seeing major, major firms adopting QR code technology.” He pointed to recent comScore numbers, which showed a 42 percent increase in the number of U.S. QR code scans between June and October 2011, from 14 million scans to 20 million. Vizibility’s test cards for the SXSW beta will employ both technologies, featuring a printed QR code as well as the embedded NFC chip. And like Scan, the company provides its clients with mobile landing pages to go along with the codes and NFC tech, so that mobile visitors aren’t sent to somewhere there devices aren’t well-equipped to view.
In fact, Alexander said, QR has done a good job of paving the way for NFC and other mobile communication technologies, and will be instrumental in helping those technologies gain wider adoption. “One of the great things that QR codes are helping people to do is change behavior,” he said. People now increasingly reach for their phones, pulling them out to interact with content in a wider variety of situations and settings, and that’s thanks to QR codes, Alexander contends.
For now, even though NFC is supposedly easier to use than QR insofar as it can be left on in the background and respond to signals without any active software prompt on the user’s part, Alexander thinks it remains a tricky technology for average users to come to grips with. He pointed out that you have to ensure your antenna is on, and even then the technology is young, so interactions between devices may not go as smoothly as you’d expect. “There’s no silver bullet here, and there’s an education curve with each of these things,” he said.
In the long run, NFC is just another delivery channel, but one that has lots of potential not just for online identity management, but for tying mobile networking and interactions into the larger CRM cycle. Alexander talked about how one major CRM platform has already integrated Vizibility’s features, but says that in the future there’s opportunity for even tighter links between the two. Information about when you met with people, at what events and with whom can accompany QR scans and NFC tag activations, automating the process of tracking a contact’s relationship timeline.
Vizibility isn’t the first company to try NFC for on-site networking; Poken offers pocket keychains that also leverage NFC to make sharing contact information with mobile devices easy, and it has partnered with big name companies like Nokia to deploy its tech. But Vizibility’s approach of making the tech secondary to the experience, and treating tools as equal to one another until they prove themselves otherwise, is much more on the pulse of what enterprise customers are looking for.