The History of the Evolving Business Cards

The Evolution of Business Cards

From Calling Cards to  Virtual Business Cards; the Business Card Goes Techincal

Your business card is an important part of you and your online branding effort, an essential part of the business networking process and information sharing in the digital age. A good business card can say a great deal about you above and beyond the basic website and contact information. Done correctly a business card can to elevate your status and make you memorable with whomever you come into contact with.

The History of Business Cards: When Businessmen had  Calling Cards

The first recorded use of business cards dates back to the 15th century in China seen as a visiting card or calling card among business men.  While in Europe, this calling card was introduced in the 17th Century and was used as a form of advertising for trade merchants that often included a map and directions of where the vendor’s product or service cart was located.  As printing became more popular in the 1800′s the business card finally reached the United States, quickly becoming a popular form of advertising and networking among businessmen and the public.

And Calling Cards Were Social

As the business card gained in popularity, there became two distinct types of uses: visiting cards and business cards.  In the 19th Century in the United States, visiting cards were used primarily by individuals as a way to establish social obligations.  A stack of cards would be housed in the hallway and became a catalogue of visitors as an early form of “While You Were Out” phone messaging that we are familiar with today.  Business cards were widespread among men and women and across classes.  People were looked up on in poor taste if they visited or attended an event or made a social call without one.

Virtual Business Cards in the Digital Age

As our lives have become more virtual and networked based, our vision and idea of the business card has continued to evolve.  The traditional paper business card still holds true but the rise in popularity of iPhones and mobile devices has changed the way in which we exchange our contact information.

Popular iPhone virtual business card applications like Hoccer, Bump, and others have begun to take the place of the traditional business card.

  • Hoccer. A free downloadable iPhone application offers the ability to exchange your contact information with a simple throwing gesture.  The application must be opened by both parties who must complete a throwing motion to exchange their information. Bump. With over 10 million downloads, Bump is one of the most popular iPhone contact exchange applications. Two people open the application and bump their iPhones with their hands.  After only a short setup, all your contact information is easily transferred.
  • LinkedIn. With their most recent iPhone upgrade, LinkedIn now offers a contact information transfer service.  Both parties must have their bluetooth activated on their iPhone in order to exchange their contact information.  While in London, I was able to quickly exchange contact information by just sitting next to someone during a conference or dinner.


 More Ways to Share Business Cards Information: Virtually

For non-iPhone users there are also alternatives to exchanging virtual contact information  without the card stock as well.

  • Business Card Readers. Blackberry and iPhone users can use a data capture application that takes a picture or scans the business card right from your mobile device.  Another great application for this and other data capture purposes is Ever Note.
  • SnapDat.  Create and exchange a virtual business card online with anyone.  In a matter of minutes, you can create a very professional business card to exchange on social media networks and other online communities.
  • Pokens. Pokens are another virtual business card. Really they are the  social business card, and aren’t we all about social these days?  After selecting a poken and setting it up, you are able to quickly exchange contact information with other poken users quickly and are able to upload the contact information by inserting the USB from the poken into your computer.  These are great for large events and conferences where you can connect with a large number of people very quickly.

Bottom line, as everthing eveloves in the digital age, business cards have had to change as well.  Virtual cards, business card readers and skanners are only one step in the ever changing history of the business card.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.

Reader Interactions


  1. Sharlyn Lauby says

    Thanks for the link luv – most appreciated! I’m intrigued by the Poken. Got one as a birthday gift…but I haven’t found anyone else who has one.


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