Get to know a Toronto startup: Cardign

Nearly everyone has experienced it. You get introduced to somebody for the first time and within seconds, you can't remember their name. Not to worry, even though the name and facial recognition part of your memory may not be the strongest, Jean-Luc David and the Toronto based team at Cardign (yes, it sounds like the sweater) are here to help.

Imagine the ability to immediately follow, befriend, and connect with someone you meet after snapping a photo of them with your phone. Instead of focusing on the historical handshake and business card exchange to network, Cardign is trying a new approach to bring the act of the introduction into the 21st century. To keep it simple, when you use your mobile phone to take a photo of someone, Cardign will automatically follow them on Twitter and connect with them on Facebook, Foursquare, and LinkedIn.

To learn more about how the whole concept came together, I sat down with Jean-Luc David to find out how Cardign is trying to integrate facial recognition into our daily lives without sparking mass Orwellian panic in the streets.

Let's talk about Cardign, where did the idea come from?

The seed of the idea came to me at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. I made a lot of great connections and collected a large stack of business cards. Once I tried to reconnect with many of the people I'd met, many had lost context of our discussions or couldn't remember who I was. This made me think of a simple concept - imagine if you could meet someone and immediately follow them on Twitter, connect with them on Facebook and LinkedIn, and send them an email.

How does Cardign actually work?

Cardign has three main features. You can look at the stream of people connecting with each other on Cardign around the world, pull up contact information from your address book (it automatically stays up to date) and of course, snap a picture of a person's face to get their contact information.

Can people find me on Cardign if I haven't created an account?

Not yet. Today, you need to install the app and take three pictures of your own face in order for Cardign to recognize you. In a period of three months, we've had thousands of people use Cardign. We're constantly improving our results, and at one point in the near future, you'll be able to use it on anyone.

How does Cardign match pictures to people?

Pretty much the way people normally recognize each other. The human eye can recognize people based on distinct facial characteristics. For example, the color of a person's hair, the shape of a person's face, the proportion of a person's nose compared to the eyes, etc. Cardign works in the same way - it maps out hundreds of points on a person's face in order to differentiate it from others.

I'm not sure everyone wants to have their photo taken by someone they just met. What are your thoughts on the privacy concerns?

It's definitely an important issue and we're sensitive to it. We've implemented several measures to help protect people's privacy and give control to our customers. For example, if you don't want to be recognized by Cardign, we've have an opt-out process so even if someone takes a picture of your face, your profile information won't show up in the search results. It's important to note that we don't share private profile information. The most a person will get through our current app is a link to their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Foursquare accounts. You are in full control of incoming friend and connection requests.

Who are Cardign's competitors?

There are many high quality contact management apps in the market. For example, CardMunch allows you to snap business cards and get people's LinkedIn profiles. Most of the efforts out there try to replicate the experience of exchanging business cards (and many have failed).

Cardign looks and behaves like a contact manager, but we have very ambitious goals in the long term. It's really about bridging connections offline and online, and making the user experience as seamless as possible using the latest technology. We think facial recognition takes it to a whole new level - we're trying to push the envelope.

Where do you see Cardign going in the near future?

Cardign has a bright future. With technologies like Google Glass, you won't even need to pull out your phone to connect with someone at a meeting or conference. You'll be able to retrieve their public contact information in an instant - there's zero friction. Another aspect is context - imagine meeting someone and instantly knowing that you both like Game of Thrones. Context can help as an "ice breaker" to find common ground and help build friendships and relationships.

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