A couple weeks ago I attended a conference, and upon checking in I was told, "Don't forget to pick a Poken!"
A Poken is a specially-designed thumb drive that allows you to fuse offline and online social networking. It works as a social business card that people access online.
So, it enables you to be out and about, but never out of cards.
The Switzerland-based company sells Pokens across Europe, but has fans as far afield as Tokyo. TechCrunch Europe named it the Best Real World Gadget in 2009. Poken entered the U.S. market earlier this year.
At the conference I attended, I received a device from the PokenSparks line, given that name because it glows green when you touch Pokens with someone else. The designers say it’s to reflect that “spark” of emotion you get when meeting someone.
Lynn Edwards, MyLegal.com conference organizer, was my first Poken contact.
“It was a useful way to get people’s contact information in social settings, and it is now becoming popular with the convention crowd here in the U.S.,” said Edwards.
Having attended two conferences in one week myself, I found that Edwards is right. Carrying around a Poken is much easier than collecting 20 or 30 cards. Plus, asking someone if they'd like to Poken is a real icebreaker!
There is a catch to this clever gadget. Your new Poken friends have to create a Poken profile online to complete the connection. The information on your Poken device syncs with your profile when you plug it into the USB port of your Internet-connected computer. The profile ties together a user's many social networking personas and allows you to share them with your new Poken contacts.
Another conference attendee, Salim Elkhou, director of e-Stet, is one of my new Poken friends.
“The good things about it is that you don’t need to download any software,” said Elkhou. “One movement, and you have all the info,” he said as our Pokens touched and we waited for the green glow, indicating our device ID info had been exchanged.
“The bad thing is you could lose the device. You have to keep track of it,” Elkhou said.
Bump, BeamMe, or MyNameIsE are all applications that also allow users to quickly share contact info by "bumping" their cell phones together or taking a picture of a Quick Response (QR) code. But the drawback of all of these technologies is that they require you to have a cell phone handy.
Retaggr is an online social media aggregator similar to Poken. But gathering information for Retaggr is not facilitated with a portable device like Poken. With Retaggr, people still need your card or contact info to find you online.
The Poken can be attached to your keychain, it captures data immediately when contact is made with another Poken and it requires no particular software or cell phone.
Doutriaux explains in a "Learn About Poken" video, that this device is the bridge between your life online and offline.
So far, only eight of my 14 real-life Poken encounters followed through by completing their online profiles like Edwards and Elkhou did.
Admittedly, adjusting to new technology takes time. We'll have to wait and see if Poken takes off here in the U.S.