Podcast: If You Like Xobni, You'll Love Gist

Find out how you can "Google all the things I care about, all the time" with Gist.

I mean it. If you like Xobni, the very popular Microsoft Outlook plugin that mines information buried within your inbox, you'll love Gist. Here's why. Gist is like an older brother to Xobni, because it not only analyzes your inbox for connection information, but Gist connects you with all kinds of current and relevant information out on the web about the most important people you interact with. As TA McCann, Founder and CEO of Gist, describes in my podcast interview with him, the idea for Gist was developed after TA left Microsoft (doing biz dev for Microsoft Exchange) and began working on Gist with Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital. TA describes the original concept for Gist as trying to "Google everything I care about, all the time."

Your inbox isn't just a source of statistics about who's emailing you or their embedded contact information, it really tells a lot about what's relevant and important based on the email exchanges and calendar appointments you keep. Your calendar and inbox are also typically where you'd like additional information about someone or their company. That's the idea behind Gist - connecting you with the latest information about the people and companies you interact with. Get the gist? TA describes more about it on the podcast interview. So, let's look a little deeper into how Gist works and additional reasons why it's different and more useful than Xobni.

Rather than a plugin that analyzes your .pst/.ost file using resources on your computer to do so, Gist uploads email and contact information to their service in the cloud and analyzes the data without slowing down your computer. Gist does this very quickly, pretty much without your noticing any system performance hit once the first upload is complete (and even that isn't taxing on your system.) Gist does this through an Outlook plugin, and can do the same for your Gmail and IMAP email accounts. Gist isn't looking at what you are saying, but rather who you in conversation with... the person and the company. Gist can also add your connections in LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to its analysis.

What is Gist doing with this information? Gist connects your most important contacts with information about them on the web. From within Outlook or Salesforce.com, you can now not only bring up general contact information but learn about what's happening with the person or company via news feeds, blogs, Twitters, Facebook, LinkedIn, and any other information about them found on Google. Gist also shows the most recent email conversations, attachments between you, and the connections you both share. Rather than doing this in an Outlook sub-pane, Gist brings up a separate small window that's accessible from all parts of Outlook. I've found Gist's user interface and use of window real estate very usable.

Now, if you're like me, you like to be up on what's happening with the people and companies you interact with. If I'm doing a call with a client, I'd like to know about the news article they appeared in this morning, the Twitters and blog post the person just put up, a message they put up on Facebook last night about arriving home after a business travel week, and the most recent email conversations you had them. Before Gist, I did all of this manually (at least when I actually had the time to do it). I had to go out myself and search the web, check their blog, Twitter and Facebook pages, and sort my emails from them to find our recent email exchanges. Think about repeating that process 5, 10 or more times a day and you quickly see how Gist not only helps keep you up on the latest information, but also saves a lot of your time in the process.

That's what Gist does for you, automatically, and without any extra effort on your part. At the click of a button (and via your account dashboard on the Gist site), you've got the latest information at your fingertips. Take a quick scan and you're ready to go. Heading into a meeting? Glick the Gist button in your Outlook appointment to see what's happening with all the participants in your meeting. Just received an email from a colleague you haven't talked with in six weeks and you'd like to know any news about their pending merger before you email them back? Bring up that information via Gist from within email. Getting ready to call a customer to close that deal? I'll bet you'd like to know about the restructuring just announced so you know what you're in for when you make that call. And you can do all of this from within Salesforce.com as well as Outlook.

Something I wouldn't underestimate is the fact that Gist processes your information in its cloud service rather than on your computer. Truthfully, I'm not a fan of Outlook plugins. I generally avoid them like the plague because invariably they slow down Outlook, crash, and make Outlook unstable. Add to that the impact to your local machine of crunching through large Outlook data files, and it's not an experience I'll endure for very long. The fact that Gist has remained installed on my computer since I first joined the private beta, speaks pretty highly of both the value received and my experience using Gist.

If you have anywhere near the same experience, I think you'll really like Gist and find it quite valuable, provided you spend a good amount of your day interacting with people outside your company (and inside too.) Gist is very well suited to sales and biz dev people, consultants, vendors and executives who are in frequent conversation with a wide variety of people.

If you'd like to learn more about Gist, take a listen to the podcast interview with TA. And if you join the public beta and try out Gist, I hope you'll post a comment here and to let us know about your experiences.

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