Gist – a Farleyfile for the 21st century

I’ve been part of the private beta of Gist for the last several months and am still wrapping my head around it. They’ve just opened up the beta for wide consumption. Here’s the announcement from CEO T.A. McCann.

Today, Gist brings you a better way to communicate and build stronger business relationships.   After a year in limited release and with the input of over 10,000 beta users, we have created a new system to aggregate, organize, prioritize and focus your time on the most important things.   We connect to your inbox or social networks to discover your key contacts and companies, automatically prioritize them and bring together personal communications, news, blogs, and the real-time web all into one neat package.


We assert a few things are true:

  • There will be more information, in more places and it s growing at an increasing rate
  • Systems will need to evolve or be created that help users harness the power of the information
  • Success in business is driven by strong relationships, both in quality and quantity
  • Companies who can quickly respond to customer demand are successful

Gist is a game changer and I am proud to be part of the team that has brought it from concept to a robust and useful solution.  We are privileged to work in such an exciting and evolving space, with great investors and,most importantly, incredible users who will continue to help us focus on what is most important and most valuable.  Thank you for the privilege to make a radical shift!

Gist a better way
T. A. McCann
Tue, 15 Sep 2009 12:18:47 GMT

Here are some pointers to other coverage and commentary about the service that are helping me get a better handle on the value of this evolving service:

What is a Farleyfile you ask? There is a Wikipedia entry for Farleyfile, but I first encountered the concept in one of Robert Heinlein’s novels, Double Star, about a hack actor forced to double for a kidnapped politician. Heinlein’s description captures the essence of the challenge and the solution that Gist promises in this 21st Century incarnation:

The tightrope act I was going to have to attempt was made possible only by Bonforte’s Farleyfile, perhaps the best one ever compiled. Farley was a political manager of the twentieth century, of Eisenhower I believe, and the method he invented for handling the personal relations of politics was as revolutionary as the German invention of staff command was to warfare. Yet I had never heard of the device until Penny showed me Bonforte’s.

It was nothing but a file about people. However, the art of politics is "nothing but" people. This file contained all,or almost all, of the thousands upon thousands of people Bonforte had met in the course of his long public life; each dossier consisted of what he knew about that person from Bonforte’s own personal contact. Anything at all, no matter how trivial–in fact, trivia were always the first entries: names and nicknames of wives, children, and pets, hobbies, tastes in food or drink, prejudices, eccentricities. Following this would be listed date and place and comments for every occasion on which Bonforte had talked to that particular man

When available, a photo was included. There might, or might not, be "below-the-line" data, i.e. information which had been researched rather than learn directly by Bonforte. It depended on the political importance of the person. In some cases the "below-the-line" part was a formal biography running to thousands of words.

"God’s mercy child! I tried to tell you this job could not be done. How could anyone memorize all that?"

"Why, you can’t, of course."

"You just said that this was what he remembered about his friends and acquaintances."

"Not quite. I said that this is what he wanted to remember. But since he can’t, not possibly, this is how he does it….

"These are things he would like to remember if his memory were perfect. Since it isn’t, it is no more phony to do it this way than it is to use a tickler file in order not to forget a friend’s birthday — that’s what it is: a giant tickler file, to cover anything."

[Robert A, Heinlein. Double Star. 1956. Del Ray Books. pp.151-154]

Most of us are called on to cope with an order of magnitude or two more relationships than our parents or grandparents ever contemplated. Applications and information management services like Gist are becoming absolutely essential if we hope to cope with those demands.

MindManager 7 is now available from MindJet

The folks at MindJet officially have launched their latest upgrade to MindManager Pro, now at version 7. Here’s their press release, although you’ll probably find Chuck Frey’s preview comments more useful. I’m still getting used to the Ribbon interface, but that is also the case for Office 2007. If you’re using this tool, you’ll want to upgrade. If you haven’t started mindmapping, today would be a good day to get started.

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Web Design Tool: Denim Site Sketching

This looks like an interesting design tool to check out. I’m particularly intrigued with tools that emphasize the iterative and provisional nature of design. I think that too many of today’s automated design tools convey a false sense of completeness by creating outputs that look too polished. I will be downloading this and experimenting with it shortly.

Web Design Tool: Denim Site Sketching

When you are making websites, inevitably some form of sketching will be done to rough out it’s design and interactivity.

Whether you’re the web designer or someone trying to communicate your ideas to a web designer, this little piece of software, called Denim, will come in handy.

What Denim does is allow you to create a mock website, with linking pages, just from your rough sketches. Obviously, this will work particularly well with a tablet interface.

Web Design Tool: Denim Site Sketching

Supports Windows, Mac and Unix.

Denim by the University Of Washington

Mindjet announces MindManager 7

Here’s something to look forward to for MindManager fans. I saw a brief preview of this earlier this year, but otherwise haven’t had a chance to look at it yet. I will be upgrading as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. Thank you to Chuck Frey for his excellent summary post on the upgrade.

Mindjet announces MindManager 7

Mm7pro400px Mindjet today announced the launch of MindManager 7, a new version of its flagship mind mapping and business visualization software. English and German versions will be available on May 30, 2007. I’ve had a pre-release version to play around with for a few days, and have used it in my work. Here’s what I like about it:

  • Ribbon style toolbar: With MindManager 7, the developer has adopted the Office 2007 style of “ribbon” toolbar. It’s well designed and easy to use, and exposes more of the tools you need to create and manage maps, without being overwhelming. In other words, the developers at Mindjet did a very good job designing this toolbar, from a usability standpoint. One thing that took a little getting used to was the location of the text formatting tools. Formerly located along the bottom of the MindManager workspace, they have now been moved into the ribbon toolbar at the top of the workspace.
  • Saving queries and views: I haven’t used this feature yet, but I think it’s going to be an important one for MindManager “power users.” You can now save a set of match criteria used by the Power Filter, Power Select, or Power Bookmarks commands for later re-use. Nice!
  • Focus on topic: This new command automatically centers the currently-selected topic in the workspace, and collapses all other map branches. This enables you to quickly focus your thinking on that part of your map, and minimizes other distracting content.
  • Tighter MS-Office integration: The “insert” menu now enables you to create new Outlook tasks, appointments, contacts and notes, from within a MindManager map. Clicking on the task toolbar button, for example, opens a new Outlook task dialog box. When you’re done typing, you click save, and the task is automatically added both to your Outlook task list and as a topic in your map – very slick! You can also do the same thing with a range of spreadsheet cells using the Excel range toolbar button.
  • Map styles: MindManager 7 now offers an expanded selection of map styles, which incorporate different styles of topic lines, color schemes and more. The styles give users a pre-formatted, time-saving set of attractive styles to choose from. This should be particularly appreciated by new users of the program, who may otherwise find making such map-level changes daunting at first.
  • Improved formatting options: In the formatting tab of the ribbon toolbar, MindManager 7 now includes options for changing the spacing between sibling topics. You could do this in previous versions, but it required digging down through the program’s menus and making these adjustments in a dialog box. Now, you can click on increase and decrease spacing toolbar buttons, and immediately see the impact on the appearance of your map. In addition, the new version of MindManager now offers a “format painter” similar to the one in Microsoft Word.
  • More topic sorting options: In MindManager 7, you can sort by alphanumeric order, alphabetic only, on task percentage complete and task priority. For added flexibility, you can also choose the sorting “depth” – subtopics only, the entire sub-tree or to a level that you specify. In addition, you can select from a forward or backward sorting order.
  • Topic styles: MindManager 7 now enables you to create named topic styles, based on the format of the currently-selected map topic. This is a time-saving feature that will enable you to quickly reformat the appearance of your map topics to meet your needs. It’s similar to the way in which you can create named topic styles in Microsoft Word, where each one “remembers” a particular set of fonts, colors, sizes and text styles, and can be applied with a click of the mouse.
  • Icons and map markers: These visual elements can now be added from the ribbon toolbar, which is faster than opening a panel on the right side of the workspace and then selecting what you need, as in previous versions of MindManager. You can still access this type of window, but what’s significant is that the program’s developers now provide you with a streamlined way to add them to your map.

While previous upgrades to MindManager have been incremental, version 7.0 is clearly a bigger leap forward. The ribbon toolbar really does enhance usability by putting more tools at your fingertips. In addition, Mindjet’s developers have added a significant number of new features that make the program easier to use and make it more powerful for managing large amounts of information.

MindManager 7 will be available in Pro, Lite (a basic version for home/education users) and Mac versions. For more information, please visit the MindManager 7 page on the Mindjet website, where you can register to be notified when the program is available for purchase. Click here to view today’s news release announcing this significant new visual mapping product.

Using Mindmaps as Presentation Tools

Over the last several years I’ve gradually been replacing PowerPoint with MindManager as my presentation tool of choice. Most audiences seem to like it. Nick Duffill of Gyronix offers some excellent advice on how to make more effective use of mindmaps in presentations. Here are Nick’s key points, although all of his advice (and his blog, Beyond Crayons) is worthy of your attention:

Spiral Presentation Maps and Virtual Donuts

  • Use the structure of the map to address different levels of audience, so that you don’t have to reveal more than they really need. Software mind mapping tools will let you show or hide different levels of topics. Provided you use statements instead of headings, this lets you “layer” your presentation very effectively. Think about the map as a set of donut-shaped rings. The ring nearest the centre of the map is for your executive audience, who have short attention spans and grasp big ideas quickly. The next ring is for management, who are going to need a better understanding of the implications in order to deliver it. The outer ring is for the people who actually do the work, who will need real details. The true benefits of the tree structure become evident here, because you can position detail in the context of bigger ideas.
  • When presenting, start at the one o’clock main topic and walk through your map in a spiral, addressing the executive level first, then the management level, then the detail if it is appropriate. This takes you on a complete tour of your map in at least three passes, which helps your audience feel comfortable from the outset about the scope of your presentation, and critically, the way it is represented by your map. This might disappoint the few who enjoy suspense and surprises, so it is up to you as a presenter to make it entertaining and engaging in other ways, instead of by playing with the content. That’s like playing with food, and you can remember being yelled at for that. If your audience is still with you when you complete your tour through the management level, then they are ready for the detail. If you have already lost their good will, or are running out of time, then more detail would not have helped and could even have set you back.


This template gives you some ideas on structuring the content, and the kinds of information that you might include at the different levels. The numbers on the topics represent the presentation order.

So when using software mind maps to prepare and deliver presentations, use statements, translate different audience levels to layers, and develop a spiral route through your map to keep your audience on track. And don’t forget the donuts.

Tony Buzan’s advice on how to create mindmaps

This video clip of Tony Buzan on mindmapping is making the rounds. Jack Vinson and Chuck Frey also pointed it out. According to Buzan there’s a right way and, by implication, a wrong way to draw mindmaps. I suspect Buzan would give me low marks on how I make use of his technique. What good is a tool, if you can’t twist it to your own purposes? In particular, I ignore the “one word per branch” guideline in favor of one chunk per branch. Regardless, I am still a proponent of the technique, both manually and with whatever software tools best suit your style. And Buzan’s Mind Map Book remains your best starting point.

Excellent mindmapping video (and a couple of links)

Really great YouTube clip of Tony Buzan holding forth on the features and benefits of mindmapping. Fascinating stuff from the master himself….

Relatedly, for utter information overload, check out this list of mindmapping tools. Or, check out this relatively recent list of narrowed down options. That second list turned me onto Gliffy, which is best described as free Visio in a browser–very excellent tool for diagramming, but I don’t think it’d port well to mindmapping.

Slacker links: Management Craft
Lisa’s blog is full of good advice.

Some new data to support the value of full text blog feeds

I have long been an advocate of full text feeds for blogs. Here’s some data to support the contention from Amit Agarwal.

Full text feeds pay off for this blogger

I love Amit Agarwal s analysis on the full-text vs. partial text debate. I HATE partial text feeds. I am subscribing to a few now (Dan Farber, for instance) but I find I link to them far less often than people who give me full text feeds. What does that do? Well, read Amit s analysis. And, yes, I did steal Amit s content and put it on my link blog.

Visualizing timelines with AJAX

Here’s a pointer to an interesting tool for working with timeline data. Part of a larger research project at MIT called SIMILE that also looks worth investigating.

timeline visualization

a AJAX widget for visualizing time-based events from a simple XML file, without the need for software installation, server-side or client-side. users can pan the timeline by dragging it horizontally.
see also google trends & timeline of trends & history of programming languages.
[ (religion timeline example) & (example list)] [From information aesthetics]