Gist Opens to the Public, Wants to Own the Nexus of E-mail, Search, and Social Networks

9/15/09Follow @gthuang

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year, McCann says, Gist will try out a subscription model. The big question, of course, is whether enough people will pay for the service. “We thought most business people will pay for something that saves them time, and gives them insight for business success,” McCann says. “Those are the two pieces we’ve kept working on.”

To that end, McCann’s team has been intensively studying use cases. That means things like how many times a day customers are using Gist, and in what context—for example, during a morning coffee, before a meeting, when searching for an e-mail document, in Salesforce.com, or in conjunction with other social media (these are all popular scenarios). “We have a lot of interest from content partners or social network platforms. We’ve been in a lot of discussions around all that,” McCann says.

Other interesting things the Gist team has learned from private beta trials: “There’s a lot of stuff in Gist people didn’t know how to use, or didn’t know existed,” McCann says. “In the last couple months, we’ve been giving people a simpler and smoother way to get into the product, experience its value in a small way, and peel back layers of the onion.” Another issue, which investor Brad Feld of Foundry Group has been pushing, was to think about how Gist can bring value to companies and groups, rather than just individuals. For instance, Gist could help a company figure out who among them has the best connection to a particular division at another company, and when they last communicated. “That data lives inside Gist,” McCann says.

I asked about mobile use, and McCann says Gist has done a moderate amount of optimization for the iPhone, and is continuing to evolve its mobile version. In the mobile sector, he says, “We’ll cover a wide variety of use cases.”

As for competition from big companies, McCann emphasizes that he sees Google Wave, the online communication and collaboration tool, as a “new kind of inbox” that is “not very competitive to Gist.” In fact, he says, Gist is working with Google’s Gmail team to help extend its products. Similarly, Microsoft wants to extend its communication platforms to real-time blogging and social networks. “The good news is that almost every platform provider [like Twitter] sees that Gist is stitching these together. Little Switzerland in the middle, called Gist, can keep making the connections.”

In the next two or three years, McCann says, “The world is going to change a lot. Big companies are going to innovate, small companies will start up. We see Gist sitting at the intersection of the Web, search, communication, and social networks—bringing all that together, and each sphere is a multibillion-dollar sphere. How big’s the opportunity? It’s gigantic. The intersection right now is small, but it’s growing the fastest. Not a lot of guys are building new e-mail servers, but lots of people are figuring out e-mail meets instant communication.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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