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Buried in business cards? Try Cloud Contacts or Shoeboxed

For those who hate to scan or type, two services let you mail them your business cards, and will data-enter them for you.

Allen Stern, who writes the Web 2.0 blog Center Networks, is trying his hand at his own Web 2.0 start-up: Cloud Contacts. It's a simple service: You send it your business cards, and it enters them all into a format you can import into the contact manager of your choice. An existing scanning service company, Shoeboxed, announced a similar service Monday morning, adding it to the company's receipt scanning service.

As a guy with boxes and boxes of cards that I have never entered into any database anywhere, I find the concept attractive. The issue is price. Cloud Contacts offers a pay-as-you-go service, with packages ranging from about 30 cents a card down to 20 cents. The minimum is $30 for 100 cards.

Shoeboxed works on a subscription basis, with per-card fees working out to 20 cents a card at the lowest volume ($9.95 a month for up to 50 cards) to 10 cents a card at the highest, as well as a "catch up" service on annual plans, if you forget to send in cards one month. You do have to use this service regularly or you could end up wasting money.

These are not unreasonable fees, but if like me you've been managing this far without doing anything with your cards at all, sending off your cards with a payment is still a hurdle to get over. And although the Cloud Contacts pricing model gives you more control, the Shoeboxed monthly subscription plan is probably easier to sneak through on an expense report.

I have not tried either service and cannot vouch for their quality. Stern says he's not yet using automated scanners in order to keep quality up. Shoeboxed advertises that it is.

Alternatives, of course, are entering the cards yourself; or having an assistant or junior employee do it for you; or using a card scanner. With a low-priced staffer you might be able to save some money over the services, and if you have a small number of cards to deal with a scanner might work. But if your business is meeting people and the cards just keep piling up, a dedicated service for this annoying function could be a good option.

Either service will optionally send your cards back to you when it's done with them, or recycle them for you.

The one thing neither service can do automatically is tag each record it creates with the date or event at which you met the person on the card, unless of course you write that down on your cards. But if you're that disciplined you're probably already using a scanner.