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Rafe recommends: Scan your business cards with CardMunch

It's almost too simple, but CardMunch does a very good job of helping you get a pile of business cards onto your iPhone.

Once humans have read the cards you've uploaded (top of screen), the data appears in your CardMunch address book. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Somewhere on or in my desk, I probably have your business card.

Like a lot of people, cards rain into my life constantly. Most get "filed" into small cardboard boxes that used to hold my own business cards. And then they get forgotten.

I have looked at many solutions for capturing the useful data I get from cards: Scanners, databases, and even services like Cloud Contacts, where you send your piles of cards to be scanned and entered into a database. They all take too much work (or money), so I don't stick to any of them. And then there are the business card workarounds, like Bump and CardFlick, which replace the social gesture of exchanging business cards with some smartphone-mediated artificial contortion.

But now, finally, LinkedIn's CardMunch (it recently acquired the product) gets it right. Not completely right, but right enough. It's fast enough, simple enough, and accurate enough to supplant other business card scanning products. And it's free. It's paid for, I presume, by LinkedIn's marketing budget, since you can't really use CardMunch now without being bombarded by LinkedIn features.

iPhones have good enough resolution to serve as document scanners now. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

With the CardMunch iPhone app, you take pictures of business cards. You can snap dozens of them fairly rapidly. Then the app uploads them to the distributed data entry sweatshop known as Mechanical Turk, so real humans can transcribe your cards. The info is then sent back to your app. Total time for a business card to make the round trip? In my tests, a few hours, for a group of about 25. Fast enough.

And, like I said, plenty accurate, since it's real humans reading the cards, not some OCR app that's going to get confused by clever typography.

CardMunch's strength is its simplicity, but that's also a minor weakness. All it does is scan cards and send the results back to you. But it also connects data from cards to individuals' LinkedIn accounts, so you also get contacts' pictures and deeper information than cards hold themselves

You can quickly add a contact's information from their CardMunch record to your iPhone address book. Big props to LinkedIn for not doing this by default for all contacts. You can also fire off a quick e-mail to a contact from within the app, or initiate a LinkedIn connection request (warning: Once you press "connect," you can't undo the request).

But there is no way to "favorite" a contact, nor can you sort contacts by company name or the date you took the picture of the card. The app doesn't seem to record the location where you scanned the card (which would also be useful for sorting or filtering). Hopefully these features will get layered into the app later; some of them were in CardMunch before LinkedIn bought it.

Summary: I've been looking for a good business card collection utility for years. I think I've finally found it.

Pro business card tip: Thinking about creating two-sided business cards, with your company name on one side and your contact info on the other? Oh, so clever. But don't do it. CardMunch only scans one side of a card.

The endorsement: CardMunch
Platform: iOS iPhone app
Price: Free
Summary: Finally, a good and free solution for extracting contact information from business cards.
Get it: iTunes