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by Michael Shapiro | May 25, 2010

European startup Poken makes little USB gadgets that automatically exchange contact info when two are touched together. It’s a concept we've seen in a variety of iterations at conventions and networking events over the last several years, often with technology built into registrants' name badges. Poken, however, doesn’t need a badge to work. It's small -- you can wear it around your neck or attach it to a key chain, like most any USB gizmo -- and it’s cute. That is, your Poken may resemble a smiley kitty, compact ninja or alien, if you so desire. Or it may resemble a more run-of-the-mill USB stick, for those more somber occasions. I'm not sure which version is being distributed to IMEX attendees next week, but rumor has it all registrants will receive a Poken for networking purposes.
 
Depending on how participants configure their Pokens, a variety of social media info may be exchanged with every connection. For instance, you may automatically be connected via Facebook and LinkedIn, if that's your wish, when you insert the Poken into a computer's USB port to download all of your connections' info from the day. See the demo video at poken.com for a clear explanation of how it works. The online interface for managing one’s Poken contacts looks pretty slick -- and it can be viewed in a timeline format, which can greatly help to place just how you know someone and when you met.
 
I'm eager to hear some feedback about Poken from IMEX attendees. On one hand, the simplicity of the device and the apparent usability of the interface are really appealing, and the automatic social-media connections can save some time; on the other, for how long will conference attendees continue to depend on an additional gadget, no matter how small, to exchange contact information? Granted, we don't all have iPhones (at least not yet); but consider the free iPhone app Bump, which exchanges contact info by fist-bumping with iPhones in hand. The contact info goes directly into one’s phone, and you can consult it anytime on the show floor, using your mobile device. Will gadgets that require first downloading info to a computer and then uploading the info to a website have much relevance in the future? And how often do you want to automatically become Facebook friends with people you meet at a trade show? Those answers will vary among attendees and events, of course, and that's why I’m curious to know how the Poken goes over.