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Start Poken Inc. has created a green alternative to business cards with its handheld networking gadget: the Poken. When two people touch their Pokens’ hands together — giving a high-five — a flashing green light will appear in the Poken’s palms that lets the users know their contact information has successfully been exchanged.

Each Poken can store up to 64 contacts, and a flashing yellow light on the Poken’s palm will let you know when the memory is almost full. Then you simply plug your Poken arm with USB connector into any computer with Internet access to download the information from your new contacts.

What I like

It’s easy to point out things that I like about the Poken. First off, they’re cute! Okay, the “green” element is also pretty important. I mean, seriously — do we really need a kabillion business cards floating around the Earth?

Here are a few of the other things that I think are pretty cool about the Poken:

  • The price point is awesome — just $19.95 per Poken (and an extra $4.95 in the U.S. for shipping). They also have a 24-pack at a reduced price. To order by phone, call (866) 598-1557.
  • It’s safe. Your personal information, and your contacts’ information, is encrypted using a very advanced encryption method.
  • You can search for people alphabetically, and the Poken also records the time of data transfer, which makes it easier to find contacts based on a social timeline.
  • The Poken supports vCards and all social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.
  • It works with any OS. When you plug the Poken arm in the USB drive, all computers will recognize it as a standard USB memory stick. If the program doesn’t launch automatically, just double-click the “Start_Poken.html” file that appears on the Poken drive.
  • You can have multiple identities on one Poken, and you have control over which one you share with a particular contact.
  • You can avoid embarrassing situations with the Discreet mode. If you’re not sure that you want someone to have your contact information, you can double-press your Poken’s palm, and for the next 30 seconds, any Poken transfers will only receive your Ghost card. When you download their information, you can decide whether or not to accept them to your list of contacts. If you do, your Public card will replace the Ghost card in their New Friends list.
  • The Poken battery should last around six months, and swapping it out for a new one is relatively simple.

What I don’t like

I don’t have a lot to say in this section, because there are so many things that I truly like about the Poken. The one downfall that I can see is that it won’t do you any good if you’re the only person at a conference, for example, with a Poken. Without mass appeal and distribution, all you have is a little gadget on a lanyard or a keychain that looks cute but isn’t functional.

Geek bottom line

Considering the low cost, ease of portability, and practicality of this social networking USB device, the Poken is a great purchase for your geeky friends, family members, and colleagues. However, I highly recommend that you consider buying a 24-pack at a reduced price and stuff them in as many stockings as you can this holiday season. Once the word gets out, I have little doubt that the Poken will be a huge hit at conferences and other networking events.

Check out our Poken photo gallery for a closer look at this geek gift.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ***
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: ****