In the Briefing Room: Gist

In an age of Information Overload, the inbox has come to dominate the knowledge worker’s world.  E-mail is, however, far from alone in competing for the knowledge worker’s precious time.  The rise of social networking, tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, along with other sources of content that have exploded in use such as wikis and blogs, have created a tidal wave of content that more often than not swamps the knowledge worker.  It isn’t only the sheer volume, but the disparate sources of content that create Information Overload, which in turn impairs the knowledge worker’s ability to process information, make decisions, and get things done.

One solution to this overwhelming amount of content from various sources is aggregation, where the tidal wave is filtered down to a manageable stream, with only the most important and relevant content being presented to the user.  This reduces the harmful effects of Information Overload by limiting the non-essential content that is presented as well as dramatically reducing the time that would have been spent locating that content manually.

One company that is addressing this pain point is Gist, which launched an open beta of its eponymously-named  relationship and information aggregation offering.  Gist retrieves content from sources such as Gmail, Outlook, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, ranks the content, and then prioritizes it based on relevancy (determined by analysis of a users inbox habits).  The content is also enhanced with further material culled from the Web, such as a blog posts and news stories that set context.  The result is a dashboard presenting a snapshot of the user’s contacts and wider social network, combined with supplementary relevant information.  Assembling the same array of information manually would be a time consuming process; Gist does this automatically, by parsing and rearranging the data in a meaningful way, depending on the context.

In practice, Gist is useful for drilling down on a person; a meeting attendee for instance, and quickly compiling information, past communications, and other relevant data.  From the individual’s page, which would present contact information, blog posts, aggregated communications, the user can pivot to a company’s page, which presents the same variety of information, giving context on the person for an upcoming meeting or sales call.

The service can be accessed from an account on the Gist Web page, via an Outlook plug-in, or from within Salesforce.  Gist has three options for inputting data.  Names of people may be added manually, and the system will then compile content on them; a list of contacts may be uploaded, such as a list of meeting attendees; or the system can run automatically and pull information from e-mail accounts and contact lists.

Gist, as its name suggests, is meant to provide the user with a general understanding of what is going on with their contacts and allow for deeper drill downs as needed, reducing the information flood to a manageable, and critically, relevant stream.  The offering does an excellent job of extending the functionality of Outlook via the dedicated plug-in, adding some much needed capabilities to the knowledge worker’s inbox.  As Gist moves through its beta phase, it shows great potential as a remedy for Information Overload and is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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