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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