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.