Take a look at your desk, chances are high you’ll see a huge stack of business cards. All collected at conferences, meet-ups, and Open Coffee’s. It’s actually a bit absurd: while we’re digitalizing our lives, we still use paper to create the foundation for a new contact. Project E is one of the first initiatives that strives to change this contradiction. They’ll allow you to get connected in seconds with a newly developed portable device.
E is a small, slick-looking, curvy white device. It’s just a matter of pressing two of these devices against each other to get connected on services like LinkedIn. Sync it to a PC or mobile device once you’re done with a conference or meeting, and all of your social networks are up to date with new contacts you’ve made.
Three Dutch designers came up with their idea during their graduate master year at the academy for art and media technology in Hilversum. I’ve talked to one of these innovative guys, director Renato Valdés Olmos. He explains the thoughts behind this new approach to social networking: “What we, and everybody else for that matter basically observed is that the Internet has made our world very small. We can connect with anyone, at anytime, anywhere. This has changed our world thoroughly. Especially at a social level. Quantity of contact has taken over quality of contact. So we figured, ‘Hey, can’t we get the benefits of all these great online services and communities to real-life situations?’ ‘How can we translate these benefits and getting people closer together in physical reality at the same time?’ We still believe in face-to-face contact.”
The next step for Renato and his two partners was thinking about how to do this: “We researched connectivity between cellphones and smart phones. We came to the conclusion that there must be a faster way to exchange information.” Renato wanted to get people connected with “a device operated by a single gesture. “Exchanging contact info and social networking info with E takes as long as a formal handshake.”
After launching the prototype, major gadget blogs like Engagdet and Gizmodo digged the idea and wrote about it. Suddenly, things got serious for Project E. Renato: “We wanted to start a real business”.
So how will it go from here? “We’re currently in the middle of talks with possible launching partners and investors. Once we get funded, we’re going ahead with our location-based launches. We’re aiming at a beta release of our online service somewhere this summer. We want to go live with production of the devices in Q3-Q4 depending on production funds.”
Their launch might cause a hype, since the idea is so revolutionary and well-executed. Social services that want to be part of this hype can easily adjust their services to E, as it’s an open platform. Renato: “We hope that the E device will become something you could call a physical mouse cursor, interacting with an internet-embedded physical environment. Digg an object. Get access to VIP spots in clubs or events. Store Airmiles. The possibilities are endless in the world of tomorrow.”
For E to succeed, lots of people need to have one. There’s no use in walking around with this fancy device if you’re the only one. When I talked to Renato at The Next Web conference, he told me that conference organizers can buy a stack of the devices, which they can give to the attendees. That seems like a smart way to get E widely adopted. If that works, business cards might be history at modern conferences. A waste of personal expression, but a major improvement in the art of networking.