When I first received a press release about the MingleStick earlier this month, I was incredulous about the technology’s appeal – “This is dumb,” my internal dialogue began. “Who would ever use this?”

Now that I’m waving around my own MingleStick at the IDG Global Product Meeting in Boston, I have to eat crow. This little keychain electronic device is a technological replacement to an essential tool in any business person’s arsenal – the trusty business card. Instead of exchanging rectangles of paper with contact details inscribed, MingleStick users merely point the devices at one another and hold down a button for three seconds. A blinking red light turns green, indicating you’ve exchanged contact information.


MingleStick users exchange contact information.

So is the MingleStick going to kill the business card? No.

After using the device (about the size of a box of Tic-Tacs) for some networking, I observed a couple of shortfalls compared to its analogue forbearer. You can’t read a person’s name, title, and company as soon as you receive it and there’s no system to guarantee that the MingleStick is actually working.

Everyone can relate to forgetting a new contact’s name about 10 seconds after being introduced – especially when meeting a group of people. The business card resolves that awkward moment with a quick glance down. But the MingleStick offers no quick reminder when your short-term memory fails you.

Business cards also display the title of the person you’re meeting, which means you don’t have to ask them. If I’d exchanged business cards with Bob Carrigan, CEO of IDG Communications worldwide instead of “mingling” then perhaps I wouldn’t have asked him if he was “a content guy.” (He joking replied that he was the head of IT.)

There’s also no feedback from the device after connecting with another person. If a small LCD screen at least displayed a counter of the number of people you’d met, it’d confirm that your device was functioning properly. Later when you plug your MingleStick into your computer’s USB port to upload the contact information, you might not remember how many people you met.

The need to upload your contacts to an online service will raise the red flags of those who are privacy sensitive. It means that when you “mingle”, you’re not just sharing your contact details with the person you’ve met, but with Mingle360, the corporation behind MingleSticks.

But of course, the trade-off for giving up some privacy brings other benefits that we’re used to in the age of social network sites. On your online Mingle360 account, you can connect with your contacts through their Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn profiles and view pictures of them. That’s not something you get when you exchange paper cards.

What may doom the MingleStick from catching on widely is the problem of approaching critical mass. At what point will enough other people actually have the device on hand that it’s worth it to carry around my own device? If the same function could be accomplished with a smartphone application, that’d help jump a big adoption hurdle.

So if you happen to bump into me in the near future, let’s mingle.

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  • Nice article! You have made some insightful comments. For full disclosure, I am the VP of Marketing with Mingle360 and one of the co-founders.

    You have raised a good question about adoption of the technology regarding your comments about killing business cards and reaching critical mass. The MingleStick was designed as event technology. We target events because the critical mass and usage can essentially be 100%. Every single attendee at an event can use the MingleStick – thus it becomes a simple yet powerful networking tool. Our largest event to date was 13,000 people. Our networking solution can scale to 100,000+ people.

    If you think about it, getting 10,000 people at an event to use a cell phone appl for their networking would be EXTREMELY hard to do. Many people don’t have smart phones, and for those that do you need to make sure everyone has the same app on their phone, etc. These are major obstacles that prevent ubiquitous use of a cell phone app at an event. With the MingleStick, everyone is handed a MingleStick – making it incredibly easy for everyone to use…..make sense?

    Taking the product outside the scope of events, that is where our mobile app (not yet released) would come into play for general use. The business card replacement for your daily life will be a cell phone app. Again, the MingleStick is designed as event technology.

    Hope this was of value to you.

    Regards,

    Bradley

    • Thanks for the comment Bradley. It’s true that at the IDG meeting, mostly everyone was carrying the MingleStick and it made networking easy. But there was the odd person who was caught without his MingleStick, and when that happened they were often left out of networking. Or they fell back on the trust old paper business card.

  • Brian, keep in mind, when we typically host events with our mingle technology, MingleSticks are provided to ALL attendees. So if the odd person does not have a MingleStick, they can always swing by our area and pick up a MingleStick. Again, when we host events, nobody should be left out! 🙂