by Bill French on 13/10/09 at 12:54 pm
How cool is it to start a meeting or conversation with a comment about something you could have known ONLY if you did your homework? The ability to develop clear and meaningful conversations often hinges on the first thing that pops out of your mouth. If you can spark a relationship based on awareness, common understanding, or a philosophical viewpoint, you have a better chance of achieving your business (and personal) objectives.
Being “in the know” is a critical business requirement these days. The emergence of real-time social networks challenges professional workers to be “always-on” and aware of everything that’s happening in their business segment. The social, cultural, and business pressure to be on top of everything is relentless and human nature suggests (by and large) we want to know as much as possible about those we deal with – individuals and businesses alike. We also tend to feel uncomfortable if other people know more than we do, a distinct disadvantage in business settings.
Gist came a long about a year ago as a [beta] web app designed to create the ideal intersection of your contacts, conversations, and the web. The idea to aggregate and mashup these three elements came at exactly the right moment; social media had reached a point where a fair percentage of online conversations had fragmented the notion of your businesses’ presence across the web. The shift from the tightly woven content fabric of business identity, to an open, syndicated mesh, has also affected individuals. Personal brands are now diced, sliced and scattered across far-reaching media collections – none of which are particularly helpful in presenting a comprehensive view. I covered Gist a while back and focused on their iPhone [web] app, a rudimentary collection of Gist views.
Gist is designed to take advantage of information regardless of where it takes root, but there’s also some secret sauce under the cover – the ability to understand which people and companies are important in the context of your overall information sphere. It provides a near-real-time roll-up of awareness and related content about people, companies, events and the conversations that bind them. The key to making this application a reality and highly useful is the integration of your email and calendar activities in context with the people and companies you connect with. The Gist web application revolutionized how we access and view information that is at the core of our business relationships.
The content you’ll find in Gist is very similar to what you might expect to gather in advance of a meeting with a new partner or business acquaintance, a data mining process that is non-trivial and not easily repeatable. It’s the stuff you’ll want to carry with you to meetings or have in at your fingertips during a scheduled call. Where Gist shines when ad-hoc meetings spring up and a company name surfaces and no one in the room has much information about it.
Gist simply does the data foraging legwork for you and does it quietly in the background while you communicate through email and establish new contacts, relationships and conversations. Gist for iPhone simply makes your most important information more accessible and in more places. The combination of a heightened state of business acuity and readiness in a mobile solution may be a key success factor for business professionals.
As you can imagine, knowing a lot about a company or individual is a daunting task, and to be clear, Gist can only help to the degree that (a) it has access to public content sources about the topic, and (b) it can find sources that are relevant to the company or individual in question. Transforming the scope of this service from the desktop to iPhone is a tall order but the designers created a reasonable compromise
which serves its objectives well.
Gist breaks out the view of all it knows into three categories; Events, People, and Companies. A fourth category serves as a Dashboard, a high-level view that slices at the data from a different angle by News, Blogs, and Twitter and then within each of these categories by People and Companies. Switching to and from any of these views is fairly responsive even when dealing with large data sets.
The Dashboard view also provides inbox-like functionality allowing you to triage the latest information updates. For example, you can mark items as “read” to hide them; each successive change layers the next item in place. This design approach provides a fairly productive way to maintain a review pace as you digest what’s new in the dashboard.
Running Late for a Meeting?
Gist absorbs just about anything and everything it can concerning your business activities including calendar information. With a single action, you can notify meeting attendees you’re running late. But there’s more to meetings than just notifications. To provide advanced event productivity, the Event View creates updated profiles of meeting attendees in a single view which includes a map to the meeting location.
Room for Improvement
Without question, this little iPhone app shines not so much because of the app itself; rather, it’s the data in the app that makes Gist so useful. I suspect we can look forward to many improvements to the iPhone app in the months ahead. Still, there are some areas that need urgent attention.
Linking to Content
When you encounter a link to content, you might expect the app to open Safari and display the content or display the content as an integrated Safari frame. My first preview release of Gist for iPhone opened Safari separately, taking me away from Gist – not ideal in my view. This is okay in some apps, but content reading is extremely contextual in a Gist session. The newest preview release displays the content in an embedded frame, however, the frame is only 2.3rd’s the height of the screen and the content is zoomed about two times normal making it particularly difficult to view and browse. To make matters worse, double-tap doesn’t appear to work in the embedded browser, nor do any gestures except scrolling up, down, left, right. I’m calling this a bug and my hunch is we’ll see a fix soon, if not in time for the iTunes release.
Adding a little more confusion to the UI is the Open In Safari button which is displayed in the upper right and sometimes not apparent when you’re focusing on the content area. It’s an alternative option to the embedded Safari display issue noted above. However, when viewing a Twitter post with an embedded link, the Open in Safari button takes you to the tweet page (at twitter.com). To get to the embedded link in the tweet, you must then click the link in the Twitter page of the tweet – a double hop to get to the content. Products such as TweetDeck (for iPhone) deals with this issue elegantly – I look forward to similar improvements in Gist.
Company Information Displays
Gist aggregates a ton of content and maintains a slew of one-to-many relationships between companies and people; this is evident when displaying company content and performance could be a little zippier. But, the information you get is well worth the wait.
One of the best features of Gist is the ability to tune it to recognize people and companies that are important and to gather less information about those that are not so important. This allows you to instrument the Gist environment for ultra productive use of information.
Regrettably, Gist for iPhone doesn’t provide this capability – a feature that would be highly useful and would accentuate overall productivity while waiting in airport lounges.